EASA, 2008: EASA08: Experiencing diversity and mutuality

Ljubljana, 26/08/2008 – 29/08/2008


Mobility: frictions and flows

Location 32
Date and Start Time 28 Aug, 2008 at 14:00


Michaela Benson (University of York) email
Paolo S. H. Favero (University of Antwerp) email
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Short Abstract

The term 'mobility' seems to have become a catchall phrase. In this panel we seek papers based on ethnographic research, which address how, if at all, mobility as a concept can be useful to us as anthropologists and seek further to question what mobility means on a theoretical level.

Long Abstract

Mobility' is often used as a metaphor for life in the contemporary world. It is, so most official accounts state, a major and beneficial resource for the planet. The term therefore implies, among others things, the movement of people, artefacts, notions and images, which demonstrates the true complexity of contemporary mobility. While mobility has positive connotations highlighting the possibilities of the mixing of cultures, for others, it holds negative connotations because of the challenges it presents to the fixity of locality and local culture. The banal use of the positive connotations associated with mobility may also mask negative experiences. It is therefore time to examine further the hidden power relations that are intrinsic to the term in particular contexts.

Despite the ubiquity of mobility in the world today, the significance that it has on a theoretical level has yet to be fully interrogated. In this panel, we particularly invite papers that address the correspondence between how mobility is used as a word and the particular social world that it relates to. This raises questions of how and whether mobility can be a useful concept for us as anthropologists? How do popular notions of and approaches to what counts as mobility overlap with our understandings of the term as academics? Addressing mobility from a theoretical perspective, we recognize that words operate as emblems and can signal the existence of particular ideologies, and welcome ethnographic papers which engage with a more theoretical discussion about what mobility means in the contemporary world.


London: nowhere, in particular

Author: Daniel Miller (University College, London)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper adds a concept of `relational mobility', to that of mobility as movement in space or a movement of people. For many people, movement of persons in respect to places has become less significant than shifts in relationships both to others and themselves. The evidence is derived from four ethnographies, all carried out on specific streets within contemporary London. London was once was a clear destination: a place you came to, came from and a point of identification. But for many people today, London exhibits the contradictions of the phrase, `nowhere, in particular', a unique site in its capacity to be no particular place. For many new residents, being in London, does not tell them whether they are migrants, part of a diaspora, or becoming Londoners. It is rather a site within which relationships may remain remarkably unchanged, or a site that facilitates radically new relationships. Spatial mobility becomes subservient to relational mobility.

This creates problems for both the politics of London and the academic apprehension, which tended to homogenise people into communities of common origin or common destination, or as neighbourhoods. Recent debates over cosmopolitanism, focus on the loss of identification with place, opposing national to global identity. This paper concentrates instead on what has replaced spatial identification. Relational mobility refers not just to mobility in relationships, but is an acknowledgment that for many participants in such urban ethnography, what matters most has become the viability of core relationships to family and friends.

The politics of mobility: ideology and instrumentality

Author: Fabian Frenzel (University of the West of England)  email
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Long Abstract

Metaphors of movement are ubiquitous in the language of politics and the relation of mobility and stasis is a central symbolic theme of political theory. In recent years critical political theory has extensively employed concepts of mobility and mobile subjects to theorize resistance against neoliberal globalization. At the same time affirmative notions of mobility were equally central to neoliberal ideology that has elaborated the rejection of national borders to international trade in the name of globalization. Mobility in neoliberal ideology is moreover a normative injunction for the individual, expected to possess international experience or flexibility to move.

While ideologies of mobility remain ambiguous to say the least, the ethnographic study of the use of mobility in political practices might offer a more grounded approach to discuss the politics of mobility. In the realm of collective action, from demonstrations to protest camps, from rallies to blockades, mobilities are techniques of protest, instrumental to campaigns and to symbolic and direct interventions.

Drawing from fieldwork in political encampments like the Camp for Climate Action and other Protest Camps this paper interrogates in particular the political mobilities of the camp.

Mobile culture and immobile anthropology: towards an anthropology of the roads and flows

Author: Dimitris Dalakoglou (Vrije University Amsterdam)  email
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Long Abstract

Roads are one of the earliest types of material culture: they appear in any given historical period, but they have been relatively underestimated in anthropology. Roads provide a unique entry point into the study of spatial mobility, being on the one hand the very means and mode of both objects and person flows and yet often in themselves materially static, some even following on Roman lines. In spite of their various interesting aspects they are remarkably neglected by anthropologists. My paper examines theoretically the epistemology behind this neglect. Beginning from the works of classical anthropologists, analyzes the framework of the old anti-road and anti-mobile anthropology which is not sustainable today. It suggests the study of roads and motion in anthropology as an alternative paradigm to understand the dialectic and dynamic character of culture - including material culture in a time when human condition is increasingly diverse, mobile and transnationally formed.

Towards a phenomenology of flying

Author: Holly Cole (University of Melbourne)  email
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Long Abstract

Illumination of the isomorphism of place, identity and culture in traditional anthropology has spawned a myriad of theoretical perspectives and methodological practices - from network theory to multi-sited ethnography - that represent a world in/of movement. These, in turn, threaten to recast the discipline as a nomadology. Ethnographically, this paper focuses on the experiences of international aircrew, a profession characterized by heightened ambivalence, spatially between extreme geographic mobility and physical incarceration, and inter-personally in intense fleeting attachments. Working from Foucauldian thought and Csordasian phenomenology, the paper calls for the study of the body and embodiment as a site and perspective respectively for understanding the ambivalence of this particular experience and anthropology's own ambivalent relationship with movement and fixity.

Travelling through mobilities

Author: Misela Mavric (Lancaster University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper aims to explore the new mobilities paradigm (Urry, 2007) in the context of tourism, in particular, new ways of understanding and researching tourism through mobilities lens. I argue that the mobilities paradigm enables us to understand tourism holistically and offers a new range of possibilities for field research. The paper first outlines the ways of understanding tourism as a mobile phenomenon existing through the imaginative, virtual, corporeal, communicative travel and travel of objects. Further it presents these features in three cases of tourists who differ in their travelling and dwelling. I suggest such differences derive from diverse connectivity and networks tourists have or create with the place of visit. Lastly, I discuss new methods for research, in particular written and video diary that enables us to follow the movement and experiences of mobile people. This paper presents work in progress as a part of a doctoral research project conducted with British tourists in Slovenia.

'Co-opportunistic' mobility: experiencing social housing in London

Author: Patrick Laviolette (Tallinn University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper explores the dynamics of temporary urban residency. It looks at the relationships between domesticity, mobility and improvisational housing - all relevant to Britain's housing crisis. The paper empirically tackles the issue of transient co-operative residency from a perspective grounded in auto-biographical anthropology. Hence, I offer a reflexive ethnographic description of 'short-life' co-op living based on a five year account of managing vacant properties that await refurbishment or re-development by two major Charitable Housing Trusts based in West London. In questioning how tenants deal with the constant threat of having to move, I ask how members of a short-life housing co-op create their own sense of self and stability through a temporary form of accommodation. My goal is thus to investigate how these co-op tenants appropriate space, relocate themselves and cope with transient domestic alienability. In so doing, I examine how they perform their senses of belonging through moving and short-term habitation. Here, the members are domestic bricoleurs and most of them become masters of movement. The creative formulation of individual and community identities are central to the wider understanding and implications of residential instability, alternative lifestyles and the general underlying ethos of co-operative organisations.

The tensions between mobility and stasis in two contexts of super-diversity

Author: Karen O'Reilly (Loughborough University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper is particularly interested in the tensions between mobility, on the one hand, and social stability, on the other. It seems to me that, while discourses of mobility, transnationalism, postmodernism, global communities, non-fixity, and the lack of importance of locality proliferate in the academic literature, the rhetoric of modernity - of place, community, inequality, and social cohesion - persists in popular discourse, and the discourse of state policies and voluntary groups. Modernist models of the nation, locality, and community still also resonate with people's daily lives. There is thus an ambivalence in cultural messages about community and contradictions and tensions that are felt and have to be managed day by day. I have undertaken long-term ethnographic fieldwork with European migrants in Spain, and have recently started a new project: a community study of a small town in the East Midlands, which explores the concept of community in the context of super-diversity. In Spain, fixed notions of nation, ethnic group, immigrant, and tourist impact on policies designed to manage fluid mobile practices. In Shepshed, locals yearn for the return of old-style community, for supermarkets and shops, while policy-makers advise locals how they can embrace change, learn to be a successful dormitory town, and appeal to middle-class incomers whose hearts may be elsewhere. I would like to draw on the ethnographic data from these studies to theoretically examine the usefulness of the concept of mobility for those who live in its shadow.

Living on constantly transfer

Author: Ida Winther (Aarhus University)  email
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Long Abstract

Living on constantly transfer:

There are many homes and ways 'to home' oneself. Many of us quite often dwell in other places than at home (as professional commuters between two places, as travellers staying in hotels, as children from divorced families living one week with mom and one week with dad). In these movements and settings we spend much time, perhaps we even (have to learn how to) 'home oneself'. We use different strategies in order to achieve the necessary atmosphere and create a 'homely' feeling and a certain sense of belonging. Often we use sounds, smells, material objects, personal signs and other tactile elements to transform the place. In my research and field walk I follow different commuters from 'home 1' to 'home 2', and observe how they do this kind of mobility, the concrete transfer and movement, how they pack and unpack, how the connect themselves back home through internet (mail and Facebook) and mobile phone and skype. As a cultural phenomenologist I might claim that a transition from 'home-out-home' to 'home-home-home' takes place.

Rethinking panopticism: biometric security, surveillance and the state

Author: Mark Maguire (Maynooth University)  email
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Long Abstract

Foucault's treatment of Bentham's panopticon model conjures an image of the bowed inmate, both subject to and object of the ocular tyranny of a disciplinary society. How far can this visual model of social control go towards explaining new forms of security and control? This paper explores examples of biometric security deployments in the USA and Europe - 'smart' borders, new technical assemblages, private security spaces, and new State-led configurations of citizenship and mobility - to argue that the visual is being significantly refocused.

I will briefly trace the rise of biometrics in the 19th century, outline the range of contemporary deployments and examine how new assemblages are being used to securitize mobility. Central to the argument in the paper is the notion of the so-called 'data double', a figure that is tracked, secured and visualised through novel ways of seeing. Theoretically, I will also argue that rather than focus on the panoptic model one may reread Foucault for insights into how security and bio-power intersect around the challenge of 'seeing' population mobility.

'Morocco is a prison!' Culture of migration and imaginary mobility among young Moroccans

Author: Carlo Capello (University of Turin)  email
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Long Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to describe and analyse the imaginary mobility and the culture of migration widespread among the young inhabitants of the two Moroccan cities of Casablanca and Khouribga, strongly marked by transnational mobility.

This culture of migration emerged as a response to a local situation made up of strong class inequalities and a general lack of opportunities, especially felt by the young, which perceive such predicament as an existential imprisonment. Morocco is a prison for the young Moroccans of the subaltern class. Emigration is for them the only way towards social and economic opportunities. Transnational mobility is the only, hard and hazardous way towards upwards social mobility.

For this reason, emigration is highly valued, migration projects are widespread in the local population and nearly everyone has kinsfolk or friends abroad, in Italy or elsewhere in Europe. That's why we can talk of a culture of migration, whose most interesting side is the collective imaginary of migration. Foreign countries, Italy for example, become imaginary worlds, a Foucaultian heterotopia for the migrants-to-be, an imaginary screen on which to cast their frustrated desires and needs.

However, while the culture of migration is so widespread, only a minority of potential migrants is actually able to leave, because of the transnational migratory policies. For many people the desire for mobility is just that: a desire, a dream. From this point of view, too, Morocco is for many young people a prison from which it is difficult to escape.

Mobile perspectives/perspectives on mobility: anthropological entanglements with competing contexts

Author: Elitza Ranova (Rice University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper examines the potential of "mobility" as a concept to provoke a reflexive examination of anthropologists' relation to native explanatory frameworks. I approach this question through the study of a segment of Bulgarian artists and culture producers, who claim to cultivate "European" tastes and ways of life. They interpret their work as a vehicle for the travel of styles and ideas originating abroad. Because an imagined "Europe" is frequently understood to be a source of authority and innovation, this strategic use of "mobility" allows the culture producers to seek prestige and high social status. In response, members of the Bulgarian public may choose to support or dispute the assertion of "mobility" and the associated power claim. At the international level, we will find that "mobility" as an explanatory framework produces an effect of disempowerment. Since movement implies transversing distance and suggests a time-lag, it places the Bulgarian culture producers temporally behind "European" centers of cultural innovation. The term fails to account for the complexities of a local creative process, which produces original work through citation of foreign models in the context of specifically post-socialist sentiments. To sum up, "mobility" reveals the existence of competing perspectives on three levels: individual agents, nation and international setting. This paper theorizes "mobility" as a concept that allows anthropologists to examine competing perspectives without adopting them and to ask, what is the significance of anthropological alignment with each? How does "mobility" implicate anthropologists in the critique or reproduction of power relations at multiple levels?