EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution
Key figures of mobility (ANTHROMOB)
Date and Start Time 01 August, 2014 at 09:00
'Key figures' are often used as conceptual tropes in theorizing mobility. This panel disentangles the use of words and images associated with mobile people that act as epistemological metaphors for their ontological counterparts.
Concept-metaphors of mobility, from fluids to nomads, function as buzzwords in contemporary social theory. While metaphors of fluidity have been critiqued recently, the image of various types of mobile people has attracted less attention. And yet, metaphors of mobile people have been used to describe both self and other in the social sciences and humanities for a long time. This repeated usage highlights how these metaphors have become 'keywords', in the sense of Raymond Williams (1976), which through careful analysis allow us to access ideological formations and their contestations. Following Barker and Lindquist's (2009) extension of Williams' approach to 'key figures', we scrutinize both the concepts and 'figures' that make human mobility thinkable. This includes figures such as Walter Benjamin's 'flâneur', Michel de Certeau's 'pedestrian', Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari's 'nomad', Edward Said's '(forced) migrant', Zygmunt Bauman's 'pilgrim', Dean MacCannell's 'tourist' and the literary figure of the 'gypsy'. In a double analytical move, each paper discusses how the use of a particular key figure has contributed to anthropological (and social) theory and how the theorization of these social types (epistemology) compares to the contemporary ethnographic study of mobile people (ontology). Drawing on the methodology of 'key figures' we explore ways of grasping both the generality and the specificity of mobilities around the globe, and interrogate the mobile ontologies created through ethnographic research and theorization.
Discussant: Ulf Hannerz (Stockholm University)
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Key figure of mobility: the nomad
This paper takes the concept of the Nomad and Nomadology as a point of departure for the critical assessment of the figure of the nomad in the social sciences.The discussion is centered on the Nomadology of thought and science and its relevance for the analysis of mobile processes termed migration.
Deleuze and Guattari's Nomadology is the point of departure for my critical discussion of the Nomad in social science, together with Braidotti's analysis of nomadic subjects (1994) and Scott's 'The art of not being governed' (2009). My argument is that contemporary social sciences, when analyzing certain mobile processes such as contemporary global mobility, are caught by what D&G's term Royal science by reducing it to "migration". Such Royal analysis' often contribute strongly to the State's "war" on indeterminacy by suggesting strategies for controlling, civilizing and pacifying this experienced threat. The concept and metaphor of the nomad plays a significant role in social theory as in the imagination, desire and abhorrence of sedentary society, in different historical and socio-economic contexts. The anthropologist Barth has expressed that among his many field-experiences, his travel with the Nomads of Southern Persia was the most personally satisfying and he describes the Basseri as the happiest and most harmonic people he has lived among (Hylland Eriksen 2013). This appealing memory is one of several romantic images of empirical nomads at the basis of Deleuze and Guattari's concepts "The Nomad" and "Nomadology" (1986). They developed these concepts to think through a state of being that resists the hierarchy of centralization they called Royal science as expressions of State power, and introduced the Nomad as the War Machine: a counter-power to the centralizing power of the State. My discussion is thus centered on the Nomadology of thought and science.
Key figure of mobility: the Gypsy
The nomadic Gypsy offers space for artistic fantasy. Celebrated for difference or demonised as disruptive, the invented Gypsy is made real in a sedentarist hegemony. 'True' Gypsies as aesthetic representations are tolerated in nostalgia. Different oppositions occur within non-fiction disciplines.
'Gypsy', from 'Egyptian' as 'foreigner', is a global ever changing icon. Historians have unearthed negative archives of a non-literate people, denied testimony. Literature, the visual arts and music offer inverse possibilities for projecting exotica, alongside the gruesome. Gypsies, of 'no fixed abode', have walk-on walk-off parts. As objects of imagined inversions, not subjects, they are liminal. Invented traditions stain the sedentary imagination in rhymes, opera, novels and paintings. Despite Bizet and Lawrence, the Gypsy is less often the central character, but interloper/seducer. The Gypsy is celebrated or demonised as disruptive nature, never culture. From the margins, Gypsy musical creativity is admired then appropriated. The fictive is made real in the sedentary mind. Wherever in the world, this anthropologist is deluged with fantasies from others who've never conversed with a Gypsy, let alone lived with them. Paradoxically, the Gypsies' livelihood depends on engaging with such projections. From direct observation, there are outsiders' prized images: Van Gogh, Laura Knight, Constable. The aesthetic is difference, whether horse and waggon, attire or trade. Empathetic details are also scattered in fiction. Such 'real' Gypsies are tolerated as nostalgia, rarely as living beings. Alternatively, non-fiction academia produces very contrasting oppositions. Linguists prioritise authenticities of mono Indic origins, centuries back. Social scientists pursue recent variegated histories and transformations in changed contexts. All the while, international institutions float free of ethnography. The EU in 2004 banned the label 'Gypsy', permitting only 'Roma', despite groups who prefer 'Gypsy' as self-ascription.
Key figure of mobility: the pedestrian
De Certeau’s figure of the pedestrian underpins work on everyday experience in urban life. Yet for him, the action of being is more important than the identification of a type of actor. I present memories of journeys and absenses, in contrast to the supposed here-and-now presence of the pedestrian.
De Certeau's theorisation of the act of walking has spoken to anthropologists and other scholars in different ways since its publication. In the field of mobility studies, his emphasis on practice provides the foundation for a range of work on everyday experience in the constitution of urban life. 'The pedestrian' appears as a person who enunciates tactics in resistance to the gazing strategies of the planner. Yet for De Certeau the action of being is more important than the categorical identification of a type of actor. I read his use of 'pedestrian' in an adjectival sense, such that figures (which are figures of speech) may have pedestrian qualities. From this perspective, walking speaks through its gestures. In my paper I will continue the critique that anthropologists have brought to the neat dichotomies of vision and speech, which map on to domination and resistance, that have been read into de Certeau's work. As an alternative, I will pursue de Certeau's psychoanalytic framing of memory and temporality in the experience of movement. Drawing on my own fieldwork in Scotland, I present ordinary people's memories of journeys and absenses perceived in both urban and rural environments, which contrast with the supposed here-and-now presence of the pedestrian. This opens up more than just an angle on city life and mobility, and reaches instead to the politics of gesture and expression.
Key figure of mobility: the flâneur
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.
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 figure of mobility: the migrant
The concept of the migrant is inflated with notions of territory and non-belonging. In order to rescue its analytical potential from its own metaphors, I will retrace 'the migrant' from Edward Said into contemporary thought, exploring it anew within current critical research on (im)mobility.
Struggling to overcome the rift between exile and homeland, the migrant is often conceptualised as being in a state of in-between and non-belonging. Therein, identity and territory are closely linked. The migrant has become the nation-state's determining other. This is nowhere more evident than in Said's writings on exile, the starting point for my discussion about the 'migrant' as a key figure of mobility. This figure has often been approached either through the lens of nation-states, or through fludisim, while the interplay between space, identity, and power defining the ontological condition beneath the conceptual migrant was left unresolved. Our epistemological migrant has travelled into crisis.
"Exiles cross borders, break barriers of thought and experience," writes Said (2001: 185). What does that mean, if we approach the 'migrant' not through its metaphor, but above all as a spatially situated, context-dependent social phenomenon informing identities? As a specific ontological manifestation of (im)mobility, the migrant's experience is more complex than its metaphor. This becomes clear in the case of "homeland minorities", such as the Palestinian citizens of Israel. Here, 'the migrant' operates in power-related fields of (im)mobilities where the Saidian experience becomes relevant in the absence of territorial exile. Turning conventional wisdom upside down, here the state "migrated" to Palestinians, not the other way around. Scrutinizing 'the migrant' against this background, we shall look at how (im)mobility, space and identity operate as ontological exile and what this may mean for its epistemological counterpart.
Key figure of mobility: the pilgrim
For Bauman, the modern subject was a pilgrim, a builder of identity through progress towards a destination. Postmodernity is marked by the tourist, who seeks novelty and avoids commitment. But the pilgrim's challenge to the naturalness of dwelling may make him a paradigm of postmodernity.
Zygmunt Bauman mobilizes the key figure of the pilgrim to divide between 'solid', modernity and 'liquid' postmodernity: "If the modern problem… was how to construct an identity and keep it solid and stable, the postmodern 'problem of identity' is primarily how to avoid fixation and keep the options open". He builds on Weber's description of the modern subject as an inner-worldly pilgrim, who can reflect on the road past and see it as a progress towards… The pilgrim lives in "a world in which footprints are engraved for good". Contemporary 'liquid' or post-modernity is inhospitable to pilgrims. There, the aim is not how to construct an identity, but how to keep it from sticking. Postmodernity is typified by the tourist, who seeks novelty and excitement, is fascinated with surfaces, horrified of being bound and fixed, and avoids all commitment.
Other scholars focus on elided traits of the pilgrim: the openness to transformation, the uncertainties and risks of the voyage, the potential for communitas beyond ascribed statuses, the increase in antistructure as one approaches the sacred site (Turner), the centrality of bodily experience (Dubisch), and the transgressive mix of carnival, cathedral and market (Reader). Above all, the ideal of the sojourn challenges the naturalness of dwelling-in-place even for permanent pilgrims (Bawa Yamba). The roots of modern travel are firmly anchored in pilgrimage (Adler), and the growing numbers of contemporary pilgrims - many syncretistic, uncommitted, skeptical or adventure-seeking - have made the pilgrim a paradigm of postmodernity.
Key figure of mobility: the tourist
MacCannell theorized the Tourist in relation to his earlier construct "Staged Authenticity,"as "Modern-man-in-general," an alienated figure who sought authenticity "elsewhere." Later corrections posited a variety of tourists of which MacCannell's was one, fitting Urry's "Romantic Gaze."
MacCannell theorized the Tourist (1976) in relation to his earlier construct "Staged Authenticity" (1973). Up to then tourists were often vilified with accusations of herd-like 'vacuous amorality' by Twain, Boorstin, Turner and Ash. MacCannell posited the tourist as a serious-minded 'modern-man-in-general' who suffered from alienation, for which the cure was 'authenticity.' But he failed to rescue the tourist from the commercial forces that profited from creating the 'staged authenticity' , in spite of his 'second gaze' (1999). The predominant encounter of MacCannell's Tourist has been to diminish his being 'modern man in general' to being a particular type of modern man. This productive correction led others to differentiate various categories of tourists. MacCannell had cleverly turned Marx on his head by showing that the modern middle classes were alienated by the multiplicity of representations, i.e. inauthenticity, which prevented them for seeing 'how the world really worked,' leading them to search elsewhere, in the past, the foreign, the non-modern, for the antidote, i.e. authenticity. But tourists who exercise the 'collective gaze,' prototypically blue-collar pleasure seekers in the early modern West and the 'modern' rest of the world, were and are the globally predominant form who were the ridiculed masses suffering the withering gaze of the intellectual snobs of the 19th and 20th centuries. Today we explore different forms of authenticity salient to tourists, but focus on 'the tourist' as an ensemble of differentiated mobile figures who build their experiences of tourism into the on-going narratives of their lives.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.