Key figure of mobility: the flâneur
James Coates (University of Sheffield)
Paper short abstract:
The 'flaneur' has been increasingly used by ethnographers to show how ethnographic and mobile practices complicate how we view power relations in the city. It also potentially obscures certain mobilities and power relations however, due to its focus on celebrating urban mobility.
Paper long abstract:
The flaneur has been reified as a key figure in understanding the relationship between the individual, modernity and the city. A reference to dandy young gentlemen, who walked, performed and loitered within the arcades of late nineteenth century Paris, the flaneur has moved from a literary and theoretical figure, to one used in mobile urban ethnographies. The flaneur is an inspirational figure of pedestrian mobility, who looks while he is looked upon, and generally engages with the urban landscape in a multi-sensorial and mobile way. In line with this, the flaneur is often invoked in relation to the methods and experiences of the ethnographer, who move and take note in similar ways. This paper critically explores the limits of the flaneur as a key figure within mobility research, asking whether its usefulness has already passed. While acknowledging its use in drawing our attention to mobility and the senses as part of ethnographic practice, this paper questions the utility of the flaneur when we turn its descriptive lens onto those we study. Ethnographies that celebrate flaneurial practices tend to focus on ways of moving that are only possible for some. When compared to the pedestrian mobilities of marginalised and vulnerable groups, such as those highlighted in feminist critiques of the flaneur the unique position of those who can be flaneurs is brought into light. This begs the question as to whether the ethnographer as flaneur should be celebrated, and whether being a flaneur actually complicates power relationships in the city.
Key figures of mobility (ANTHROMOB)