EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(W001)

A new virtue? Imaginaries and regimes of mobility across the globe

Location Auxilia AX1
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 16:30

Convenors

Noel B. Salazar (University of Leuven) email
Pál Nyiri (Vrije Universiteit) email
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Long Abstract

It is fashionable to imagine the world in motion, with people, objects and ideas traveling worldwide. Mobility is celebrated not just by literati elites but also by governments, including those that have until recently restricted it. Yet the same states are raising the barriers of certain kinds of mobility ever higher. Anthropologists were among the first to point out that not all mobilities are valued equally positively and that the very processes that produce global mobilities also result in immobility and exclusion. Drawing on a thematically and geographically diverse set of ethnographic studies, this panel discusses and compares how various forms of border-crossing human (im)mobilities are discursively framed as a virtue or vice in societies and cultures across the globe, both today and in a historical perspective. Individual papers advance anthropological takes on the so-called "mobility turn" in the social sciences by giving ethnographically-informed answers on the following questions: Which forms of translocal mobility are currently desirable (whether they are accessible or not) and to whom, and how does the current situation compare to the past? Which socio-cultural meanings and values are given to these mobilities and by whom? What is the analytical purchase of (im)mobility as an overarching conceptual framework to study and understand the current human condition? Is mobility a better concept-metaphor to understand the contemporary world than sedentarity? Why is mobility (not) the next grand narrative in anthropology or the social sciences at large? Contributions on "newly mobile" societies (e.g. China, Russia and India) are particularly welcome.

Chair: Noel B. Salazar
Discussant: (1) Ulf Hannerz, (2) Roos Willems, (3) Nina Glick Schiller

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Competing desires for mobility: low-cost-carriers and the transformation of European cities

Author: Alexa Färber (HafenCity University Hamburg)  email
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Long Abstract

In the 1990s Europe witnessed the birth of low-cost-carrier companies which has given a new quality to the democratisation of transport. In spite of ecological concern a landscape out of (shadow) capital cities, well established tourist destinations and those with a lower profile in the periphery of new member states has been created. From second home dwelling to stag nights tourism it incorporates diverse needs and allows multiple desires of mobility to a variety of social actors. At the same time, others are confined to only witness these mobilities.

The paper examines this new dimension of Europeanization with respect to its effects on the materiality of the city, the sensation of urban space and its imagination. Findings from initial inquiries into the discursive technologies involved in conveying a possible "low-cost-urbanity" from Berlin, Riga and Paris will be presented as well as different types of urban responsiveness to these new aero-mobilities.

Rooted in movement: on the conceptual displacements in the study of diasporas and migrants

Author: Hyun-Gwi Park (Cambridge University)  email
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Long Abstract

This proposed paper addresses the question of scale in conceptualisation of human mobility and rootedness in imagining the (dis-)connection between cultural identity and place. Culture rooted in the land has been a traditional axiom of anthropological research, which aimed to study a group of people in specific time and place. However, in accordance with the increase of human mobility in post-modernist period, while the movement of people was perceived as per se, the fixation on geometric land produced some confusions and puzzles, consequently producing new terms such as 'up-rootedness', 'hybridity', & 'trans-nationalism' so on. Drawing on the ethnographic case of Korean diasporas in the Russian Far East, this proposed paper explores the alternative concept of root as 'the relational nexus'(Munn 1986), arguing that mobility and fixity is paired, alarming the risk of one way traffic in use of either notion. I propose to displace our concept of rootedness/place in order to apprehend the people's mediating spatial practices, rather than to focus on the displacements among diasporas and migrants.

Beyond the morality of mobility: casino gambling among Chinese migrants in London

Author: Claire Loussouarn (Goldsmiths, University of London)  email
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Long Abstract

In this paper, I discuss the need to reconsider the morality of spatial movements from a time perspective. For this purpose, I take the example of my ethnographic research which explores how Chinese migrants in London challenge the ideology of social mobility and its narrative of a progressive and linear time by gambling.

Among the hugely diversified Chinese population of London, high expectations of success are a recurrent leitmotiv of the migration project shaped on the terms of a common Chinese identity. However, beyond the narrative of rag-to-riches success stories which implies a unique and constant progression upward, experiences of time are in fact unequal and uneven across space and between individuals. So when Chinese migrants come to gamble in the casino it is to forget about the imperatives of this dominant narrative. Expectation and memory are put on hold to better enjoy the rhythm created by their own actions.

The meanings of mobilities: claims to authoritative knowledge of the local and the global in the Angolan development experience

Author: Rebecca Peters (The Maxwell School, Syracuse University)  email
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Long Abstract

Based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork in Angola, including 12 consecutive months in 2008-9, this paper examines how international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) strategically (re)present the translocal biographies of staff members in order to make claims to authoritative knowledge. One international good governance program under study cultivated a reputation for extensive local knowledge and expertise simultaneously with a reputation for global "best practices" in democratization and development by strategically trumpeting or hiding staff members' birthplaces, family connections, linguistic abilities, and educational and professional histories, among other products of their translocal mobilities, as needed. The paper focuses on how one man's trajectory - from Angola to Britain and back - was differentially presented to donors, government officials, and community members as befitted the program's reputational needs. This case and others provide empirical evidence of the production and negotiation of the contested continuum of locality and internationality in the modern world through mobilities and their representation.

Jembe hero: West African drummers and global mobility

Author: Pascal Gaudette (McGill University)  email
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Long Abstract

In Guinea, West Africa, the status attributed to the musicians who play the wooden, goat-skinned "jembe" drum has historically been very low. But over the last fifty years, the jembe has progressively "gone global", and today some master drummers earn a living by teaching jembe workshops to amateur aficionados everywhere. In Asia one week, Europe the next and North-America the following, these masters build global social networks, opening and plying the trade routes for the commodification of their roots. In this paper, I will describe how the modern fetishism for African drums and drummers has created an alternative economy of status for jembe musicians. I will examine how, against significantly increasing barriers, young musicians in Guinea are leveraging this economy to follow their elders into global mobility, attempting to achieve a cosmopolitanism through which they too can inscribe themselves into West African imaginaries of heroism.

International migration - virtue or vice? Different perspectives from Cameroon

Author: Michaela Pelican (University of Cologne)  email
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Long Abstract

This presentation deals with diverse imaginaries of migration among youths in two Cameroonian cities, namely Bamenda and Yaoundé. It is based on an on-going research project on transnational relations of Cameroonian Muslim migrants.

While Yaoundé is the national capital, Bamenda is the headquarters of the Anglophone northwest, an area generally opposed to the ruling regime and claiming historical and contemporary political marginalization. Public discourse and imaginaries of international migration vary considerably in these two areas. This is reflected in differences in envisioned destinations as well as terminologies and concepts. In recent years, the generally positive consideration of international migration has given way to more critical perspectives. While in Yaoundé "the dangers of illegal migration" have become the topic of the day (promoted by international organisations in collaboration with local NGOs), youths in Bamenda are consciously comparing the advantages and disadvantages of an envisaged life abroad on the basis of imparted experiences of migrant family members and friends. International migration is thus viewed in a broad discursive spectrum from virtue to vice, and perceptions are influenced by regional, national, and international political discourse.

Staying as a virtue: migration and the imagination of immobility in The Gambia

Author: Paolo Gaibazzi (Zentrum Moderner Orient-Berlin)  email
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Long Abstract

International migration is an accepted means to wellbeing in the Gambian valley. However, many Gambian youths are facing a condition of 'involuntary immobility' due to restrictive migration policies in desirable destinations. The surge of undocumented boat migration from Senegambian coasts to the Canary Islands has contributed to fuelling debates in the public as well as in more private spheres, with governments, Islamic movements and ordinary people discussing the merits and demerits of migration. This paper analyses some of these discourses, paying particular to the virtues attached to the act of staying in a context strongly polarised by out-migration. It shows that, far from epitomising a mere crisis or the downside of the global mobility regime, immobility in Gambia is a long-standing feature of local migration processes and discourses. The paper critically engages the 'mobility turn' by showing the usefulness of analysing sedentarity in order to shed light on (im)mobility processes.

«On reste là!» Values of mobility and immobility in the struggles about clandestine immigrants in France

Author: Saskia Cousin (Université Paris Descartes)  email
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Long Abstract

Whatever reason may have motivated their migration to France, stories of migrants from West Africa have two characteristics: (1) travelling is a desirable activity, an important element in the education of young men; (2) in their African travels, besides to Europe, their 'mobility skills' well equal those of global travellers. Though, once arrived in France, only values related to sedentarity are taken into account by public administrations and what could be called the 'public gaze'. If the mobility paradigm seems to be relevant to understand the migrants' world experience, it is never a claim or a claimable value. Their ability of being mobile can thus be seen as a handicap for public administrations. It is as well denied by those militants struggling for the legalization of their political status. Most of the migrants can not publicly state any desires other than living a life based on immobility.

The homesteader and the migrant: ethics and mobility in post-soviet Latvia

Author: Dace Dzenovska (University of Oxford)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper examines articulations of ethics and mobility in Latvia. On the one hand, it considers how Soviet practices of population transfers contributed to the emergence of an ethical distinction between the rooted "homesteader" and uprooted "migrant." On the other hand, it considers how post-Soviet migratory routes to Western Europe and within Latvia, exacerbated by the current economic crisis, reconfigure this ethical distinction.

The paper argues that phenomena which are on occasion presumed to emerge from local histories and politics, such as the centrality of a "sedentarist metaphysics" for collective Latvian identity, are also the result of the political subjectivation through which Eastern Europe is integrated into "the West." Asking how these are constituted relationally, the paper does not take "sedentarist metaphysics" as a category devoid of mobility, but rather engages with it as a mode of mobility, one entailing a historically specific temporal and spatial configuration of movement.

Home alone: keeping home the same in wake of the migration of others

Author: Aliaa Remtilla (Ismaili Council for the USA)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper focuses on how those who are sedentary cope with the mobility of others and with their own immobility. With a dearth of well-paying jobs in post-Soviet, Tajik Badakhshan, many Badakhshanis have left their homeland to find work in the capital Dushanbe, or in Russia or Afghanistan. This mobility runs in stark contrast to the Soviet period when movement was state-controlled. Badakhshanis speak positively about the potential for exploration outside of Badakhshan, but economic-driven migration disrupts established social roles and kinship obligations. Badakhshanis strive to maintain an unchanging homeland amidst the whirling vortex of mobility; but with few men left in the villages, gendered and generational roles must be renegotiated to create an aura of stability. The Badakhshani experience helps challenge the dichotomy between mobility and immobility by demonstrating that the two contribute simultaneously to the negotiation of meaning ascribed to places and social networks.

The 'routes of the nation': intersecting trajectories and imaginings of Tibetan migration in northwest China and north India

Author: Christopher Vasantkumar (Hamilton College)  email
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Long Abstract

My paper focuses on the trans-Himalayan peregrinations of Tibetans to and from the Amdo region of northeastern Tibet/northwest China. I am especially interested in the figure of the Tibetan returnee (to China) as it complicates received notions of Tibetan religiosity and Chinese (trans-)nationalism. Drawing on ethnographic research in China and India, I address attitudes towards travel to and from India among Tibetans in Gansu Province, northwest China and reasons for returning to China amongst Tibetan populations in and around Dharamsala. I do so as a means of laying bear the convergences and divergences between PRC and exile Tibetan notions of mobility based belonging (c.f. Anderson's "routes of the nation"). Further, I argue that Tibetan returns occur on two incommensurate levels, one of wealthy businessmen who are feted by the PRC as overseas investors and another less licit terrain in which poor returnees are viewed as threats to Chinese national projects.

The exotic immobile subject

Author: Barak Kalir (University of Amsterdam)  email
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Long Abstract

While setting the analytical gaze on those who are or were on the move, migration studies often caution us not to exaggerate mobility, and remind us that most people stay put. I shall argue that such a view is based on a very selective and narrow account of mobility. First, this view often neglects internal migration of all sorts, most notably rural-urban, but also urban-urban (changing a city, an apartment, a working place), and more recently urban-rural. Second, this view takes as the essential unit of analysis the moving individual, and often considers the setting in which the individual moves to be stable, for example, the village, the city, the state. By following ethnographically the life history of Sheng, a forty-year-old Chinese who comes from a small village in Fujian province and has been on the move internally and internationally for most of his life, I account for mobility as a dialectic process between changes in Sheng's outlook and material and social surroundings. I shall show that most relevant factors for understanding the life course and decisions of Sheng have all been "on the move", that is, in a constant process of reshaping. Realizing the omnipresence of movement in our lives, and taking my cue from Hegel's claim that comprehending reality does not mean grasping a given state of affairs but understanding the process of change, I shall argue for a reversal move in migration studies towards the canvassing of the stationary as the peculiar exception to the rule.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.