Sociodynamics of
The Common Elevator

Andreas Bernard invokes Erving Goffman's ethnomethodological analysis of the positions passengers customarily take up on entering a lift: the first beside the controls, the second in the corner diagonally opposite, the third somewhere along the rear wall, the fourth in the empty centre and so on; all of them at once turning to face the front, as though on parade. He terms the resulting intricate array of mutual aversions a "sociogram." He's right, of course. There is something about the way people behave in lifts which requires explanation.
Considered as a people-mover, the elevator ranks with those other epochal Fin-de-Siecle inventions, the motor car and the aeroplane. Like them, it combines high speed with a high degree of insulation from the outside world. It's a vertical bullet train, a space rocket forever stuck in its silo --- at least until the moment in Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Willie Wonka presses the button marked "Up and Out." An elevator exceeds a car or a plane in the claustrophobic extremity of its insulation from the outside world. It's the collective endurance of protracted viewlessness, rather than urban ennui, that activates Bernard's sociogram.
---David Trotter
Review of Lifted: A Cultural History of the Elevator
(New York University Press)
London Review of Books
3 July 2014
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH