Postcolonial Airliners as Cultural Mediators 


Postcolonial Airliners as Cultural Mediators: Corporate Branding and Cultural Governance in Transnational Contexts

Editors: Bart Vanspauwen (Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, Portugal) & Iñigo Sánchez-Fuarros (INCIPIT-CSIC, Spain)


For most airline companies, 2020 came in like a wrecking ball. Recent centenary celebrations of some of the world’s oldest airliners such as KLM and Qantas, just a year before, forcedly made room for grounded personnel, humanitarian or repatriation flights and government rescue packages for survival. The global pandemic swept away previous dreams of global mobility and stressless tourism. In addition, cultural outputs – from inflight magazines to government-backed tourist attraction programs – were put on hold too. Halfway 2022, a heigthened postcovid ‘revenge travel boom’ and workforce shortages at several hub airports then led to thousands of canceled holiday flights and a new delicate setback for international travel. As a result, airlines in particular, and the travel industry in general, are restructuring to face a new scenario of uncertainty.

Taking the airplane as a chronotope, a moving element which represents a political and cultural unity, and connects fixed but geographically disperse spaces in fluid, imaginary ways, this special issue seeks original research that studies the intersections between corporate branding and cultural governance in flag carriers with a colonial past.

This special issue focuses on cultural mediation from an anthropological and postcolonial perspective, by investigating into the ways in which former colonial flag carriers have represented/embodied transnational cultures, national identities, memories and heritage, as well as their interstitial spaces in which these issues are negotiated and/or contested.

As has emerged from preliminary research results from a case study on TAP Air Portugal (Vanspauwen & Sánchez-Fuarros forthcoming), inflight magazines, corporate social media channels (such as Instagram, YouTube, or Facebook), and other outreach activities may offer a privileged research lens to explore tangible and intangible (sonic, visual, textual) cultural narratives around the issues at stake.

Our working hypothesis is that a similar pattern may be present for flag carriers operating in language systems other than the Portuguese (Commonwealth, Francophonie, Hispanidad) which may offer new perspectives on how cultural governance and brand marketing work to articulate identities that either depart from or confirm received narratives of national cultures. On a metalevel, with this special issue we intend to perceive the narratives of modern Western empires as constructions that reflect concrete social and cultural negotiations, particularly but not exclusively, over traumas of colonialism and domination. 


Agnela Barros Wilper (Independent researcher), Beatriz Nieto-Fernandez (Florida Atlantic University), Carolina Castellitti (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, UFRJ), Evan Binkley (University of Cambridge), Evan Jackson (Florida Atlantic University), Adam Yussof (Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Mozambique) & Francisco Cabo (University of Brasilia), Gabrielle Messeder (City University of London), Gaunette Sinclair-Maragh (University of Technology, Jamaica) & Michelle McLeod (University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica), Guillaume de Syon (Albright College), Holly Randell-Moon (Charles Sturt University, Australia), Jane M Ferguson (The Australian National University), John D. Wong (The University of Hong Kong), Melina Piglia (Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata, Argentina), Nahashon N. Nthenya (Osaka University), Volkan Ipek (Yeditepe University, Turkey), and Waleed Hazbun (University of Alabama).

Selected references

Adey, P. (2010), Aereal Life: Spaces, Mobilities, AffectsLondon: Wiley-Blackwell. 

Castellano, C. G. (2018), ‘Curating and cultural difference in the Iberian context: from difference to self-Reflexivity (and back again)’, Journal of Iberian and Latin American Research, 24: 2, 103-122.

Castellitti, C. 2019. ‘Varig, ‘a Real Brazilian Embassy Outside’: Anthropological reflections on aviation and national imaginaries. The Journal of Transport History, 40: 1, 82-105.

Coller, K., J. H. Mills and A. J. Mills (2016), ‘The British Airways Heritage Collection: an ethnographic ‘history’’, Business History, 58 (4): 547-570. 

Cresswell, T. (2006), On the move. Mobility in the modern western world, London and New York: Routledge.

Cwerner, S., S. Kesselring and J. Urry. (eds.) (2009), Aeromobilities, London and New York: Routledge. 

Feldman-Bianco, B. (2007), ‘Empire, postcoloniality and diasporas’, Hispanic Research Journal, 8 (3): 279-290. 

Govil, N. (2004), ‘Something spatial in the air. In-flight entertainment and the topographies of modern air travel’, in N. Couldry and A. McCarthy (eds.), Mediaspace. Place, scale and culture in a media age, 223-252, London and New York: Routledge.

Kivijärvi, M., A. J. Mills and J. H. Mills (2019), ‘Performing Pan American Airways through coloniality: an ANTi-History approach to narratives and business history’, Management and Organizational History, 14 (1): 33-54.

Manning, P. (2010), ‘The semiotics of brand’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 39: 33-49.

Matsanuga, L. (2016), ‘The Corporate Brand: Toward an Anthropology of Branding’, in H. Nakamaki, K. Hioki, I. Mitsui and Y. Takeuchi, Enterprise as an Instrument of Civilization: An Anthropological Approach to Business Administration, 227-243, Tokyo: Springer.

Paludi, M. (2017), ‘Representation of Latin America in Pan American Airways: Decolonial Feminism on a Multi-national’, PhD diss., Halifax, Saint Mary’s University. 

Peralta, E. (2011), ‘Fictions of a creole nation: (re) presenting Portugal’s imperial past’, in H. Bonavita (ed.), Negotiating identities: constructed selves and others, 193-217, Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi. 

Ponzanesi, S. and B. B. Blaagaard (eds.) (2011), Deconstructing Europe. Postcolonial Perspectives,London and New York: Routledge. 

Radano, R. and T. Olaniyan (eds.) (2016), Audible empire: music, global politics, critique, Durham: Duke UP.

Staniland, M. (2003), Government birds: air transport and the state in Western Europe, Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

Vanspauwen, B. and I. Sánchez-Fuarros (in press), ‘Embracing postcolonial diversity? Music selection and affective formation in TAP Air Portugal’s in-flight entertainment system’. In E. Peralta and N. Domingos (eds.), Colonial legacies of the Portuguese Empire: memory, citizenship and popular culture. New York: Bloomsbury.