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Cultural Anasysis

SIEF2013: Circulation

Tartu, Estonia; 30th June - 4th July


Exploring highly mobile life-worlds

Location Jakobi 2, 428
Date and Start Time 01 July, 2013 at 10:30


Anna Lipphardt (Universität Freiburg ) email
Matthias Möller (Institut für Volkskunde) email
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Short Abstract

The panel seeks to contribute to an empirically founded multi-dimensional understanding of highly mobile ways of life. It focuses on relevant conceptual and theoretical aspects, historical and contemporary experiences and methodological challenges that arise from studying highly mobile milieus.

Long Abstract

Perceived as new phenomena of the late modern period, 'hyper-mobility' and 'highly-mobile people' have attracted much media attention and become popular topics for globalization and mobility studies. However, throughout history, social groups and professional milieus, such as artists, circus families, or traveller minorities, have practiced highly mobile ways of life. Analyzing privileged and non-privileged mobilities allows for a critical discussion of social differentiation and power relations while drawing attention to (im)mobility patterns, mobility regimes and mechanisms of control.

The panel seeks to contribute to an empirically founded multi-dimensional understanding of translocal ways of life. It will focus on network and community formation, work and labor issues, life course and everyday life-world, family and conceptions of "home" under mobile circumstances. It emphasizes interdisciplinary and comparative approaches and aims at an analytical differentiation, addressing the following questions:

How can we empirically explore mobile life-worlds in Europe?

In which ways can we unravel dynamics in the entangled history of highly-mobile groups and shed light on the central areas of close encounter with majority populations and nation states?

Can highly mobile groups serve as an epistemic tool to counter/read the theoretical figure of the post-modern nomad and go beyond mobile/sedentary binarisms?


CONCEPTUAL APPROACHES discusses central theoretical aspects, conceptual frameworks and terminological issues relating to movement, mobility, and circulation.

HISTORICAL INSIGHTS addresses long-term perspectives on and contemporary experiences of highly mobile groups.

METHOLOGICAL CHALLENGES gathers new insights and queries arising from empirical research on transient phenomena.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


On the road again: small-scale mobility, translocal ways of life and everyday life strategies in early 19th century Württemberg

Author: Sabine Kienitz (Universität Hamburg)  email

Short Abstract

The paper will discuss methodological challenges arising from empirical research based on archival sources of the early 19th century on small retailers, beggars and travelling people.

Long Abstract

The paper will discuss methodological challenges arising from empirical research based on archival sources of the early 19th century on small retailers, beggars and travelling people. While the perspective of "Sozialdisziplinierung" was claiming for a long time a position of marginalization and exclusion of these groups and parts of population and a moral and mental gap between the middle and the lower resp. propertyless classes, the question is still today to understand everyday life and how these groups especially on the countryside and in the small towns and villages cooperated in making a living. The perspective of governmental and administrative repression is mostly shown in the local law and depending on that in the police files. But still one of the main problems is getting information about the perspectives of mobile people e.g. on their own conceptions of "home", every day life strategies, or family and kinship networks and their encounter with settled population groups.

Working with court records of a murder trial the paper will on the one hand discuss the methodological questions while working with these sources of public authorities, on the other hand it will discuss the evidences of the lives of three mobile women in the early 19th century in Württemberg, who had been living on the road for the majority of time of their lives.

Transnational Finnish artists and their relationship with Berlin

Author: Laura Hirvi (University of Helsinki)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper that is based on data collected on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork I explore the relationship between transnational Finnish artists and Berlin.

Long Abstract

Berlin is a European city that throughout history has played an important role in global politics. It also constitutes a significant cultural center that draws composers, conductors, designers, novelists, painters, photographers, and poets from all over the world. While Finnish artists crossed the Baltic Sea already a century ago in order to study or work in Berlin, they also do so today. This paper explores the relationship of mobile Finnish artists and the city of Berlin. I am interested to examine how mobile artists - for example through their artwork - contribute to the process through which the cultural texture and images attached to a particular city are being shaped. At the same time, I hope to point out in this presentation some of the ways in which Berlin as well as the experience of mobility both have an impact on the work of transnational artists. The data for this research will be gathered by means of multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork beginning from spring 2013 onwards.

High mobility and precariousness in Canada: exploring the relationship among those with no fixed place of work

Author: Deatra Walsh (York University, Canada)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the relationship between high mobility and precarious employment, using data from the 2006 Canadian, and focuses specifically on individuals without a fixed place of work.

Long Abstract

Precarious employment and employment-related geographical mobility are increasingly common within and across labour markets of the Global North and South. Precarious employment - defined largely by job insecurity and limited social benefits, has developed along with the erosion of the standard twentieth century employment relationship. Employment-related geographical mobility, which encompasses permanent relocation, but is more commonly associated with forms of 'circular' migration such as commuting, seasonal migration and more sporadic temporary long-distance employment-related movements, is also on the rise. This increased mobility comes as a result of industrial restructuring, improved transportation and communications infrastructure, demographic change and the reduction of international, national and sub-national barriers to labour mobility.

While geographical mobility and precarious employment seeming move in tandem, the relationship between them is understudied. This paper examines this relationship using data from the 2006 Canadian Census, focusing specifically on individuals without a fixed place of work. I argue that workers with no fixed workplace are highly mobile by virtue of the distances traveled for work and/or the frequency of their work journeys, which often include multiple job sites. The paper provides a socio-demographic description of these workers, and maps their employment characteristics, paying particular attention to whether and how these characteristics reflect dimensions of precariousness. An ordered logit regression then outlines the variables most likely to predict having no fixed place of work. Through this analysis, I reveal the heterogeneity of this category of workers, demonstrating that while mobility and precarity are not synonymous, a fine line exists between the two.

Constructing normality: deconstructing the "problematic" mobile workers in the Arctic petroleum industry

Author: Gertrude Eilmsteiner-Saxinger (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

Long-distance commute work and fly-in/fly-out operations are essential methods for provision of labour force for the extractive industries in the remote Sub-arctic. This ethnographic paper elaborates notions of “normality” of mobile and multilocal life-styles.

Long Abstract

Long-distance commute work and so called fly-in/fly-out (FIFO) operations are essential methods for the provision of labour force for the extractive industries in the remote arctic and sub-arctic. So far little research is available on this particular group of mobile work force. In public discourses as well as partly in the academia, FIFO workers are constructed as being problematic on the one hand in interaction with resource communities as well as in the context of their family life. Subsequently, the mobile lifestyle is connotated with leading to deviant behavior.

However, my research among FIFO workers in Fort McMurray in Canada as well in the West Siberian Basin has shown that this group consists of a variety of people in terms of social characteristics such as gender, age and professions as well as in terms of values and ideas. This research has shown that FIFO workers are not living in a social vacuum while at site and therefore, should be seen not only as sole human resources but as partners and stakeholders when it comes to negotiations with communities and the facilitation of FIFO operations in general. Seeing FIFO workers as mature stakeholders with specific needs and clear ideas about the way of life and interaction with receiving resource communities allows to address the benefits of such an interaction as well as to elaborate means of mitigating existing problems. This paper elaborates theoretical notions of "normality" of mobile and multilocal life-styles based on ethnographic research.

Home, continuity in highly mobile life-worlds

Author: Bernardo Figueiredo (University of Southern Denmark)  email

Short Abstract

I engage with assemblages as a way of promoting a different ontology for the concept of home; one that deconstructs unity, while highlighting continuity. I use the mobility of skilled workers as my grounding context for an empirically founded understanding of home in high mobility.

Long Abstract

Drawing on the works of Latour (2005), Law (1992), Massey (2005), Nowicka (2007), I conceptualise home as an assemblage of heterogeneous elements. In addition, I contend that home should be regarded both as a network of diverse elements and as a place distributed in space (Tuan 2001). It is a network—comprising people, objects and relationships—that is not grounded permanently anywhere, but which is nevertheless distributed geographically in a meaningful way. In this conceptualisation, territory is not the ground where home lies, but instead, it becomes one of the elements in the assemblage of possible combinations. How is it possible for an assemblage of heterogeneous elements held in precarious relationships to become home: a meaningful, continuous, ordered, and often monadic idea? To address this question, I look at home in the context of the extensive mobility of global cosmopolitans. Latour (2005) explains that when an actor-network breaks down, the punctualisation effect tends to cease as well. Mobility disrupts traditional notions of home. However, new ones are formed and lived by. I explore the ways by which highly mobile people try to sustain a notion of continuity to home through various processes of ordering, which provides stability to its components and their relationships and connects tangible and intangible objects and people into a "material-semiotic" ensemble (Miller 1998, Law 2009).

Chasing Houses - A Road Movie: architectural migration in the US

Author: Justin Rathke  email

Short Abstract

I will show and discuss excerpts from film material, shot in spring 2013 for an experimental documentary that analyzes the phenomenon of mobile home culture in the US and its connection to road movies, the American Dream, the housing bust and critical values of flexibility and mobility.

Long Abstract

The panel presents work in progress, selected excerpts from "Chasing Houses. A Road Movie". This experimental documentary follows mobile homes - houses that get deconstructed, transported and reconstructed in a new place entirely - throughout their journey through the USA.

It is a surreal road movie, researching social and economical contraints of a contemporary migration in the late capitalist society of the US: The years of of the financial crisis, the housing bust, mobility under the pressure of economical adaptation, the self-reconstructing American Dream. Who is living in those houses? What is moving them? What are the causes leading to this form of migration? Will mobility make the hopes of social ascent come true?

The film is a collage of images of driving houses, interviews with owners, truck drivers and construction companies, and quotations from road movies such as Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde, Natural Born Killers. They are commenting on the voyage as restagings and as audio-fragments and draw a line between mobility as an expression of unlimited freedom and mobility under the the aspects of financial adaptation.

What is the cultural mindset behind? What does that have to do with the road movie genre? And, finally, why do my European eyes find that so fascinating, being used to solid structures of stone that get passed on from one generation to another?

Participants are warmly invited to discuss these questions.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.