A Note on mobilities/communty/society John Urry wrote in 2000

A Note on mobilities/communty/society
John Urry wrote in 2000 (2000:1) that mobilities transform the historic subject matter of
sociology within the west which focused upon individual societies and upon the generic
characteristics of such societies. Her urges for a reconstructing of the social as society into
social as mobility. Mobilities, relationship between societies or parts of societies and on
networks and “flows”, undermine the idea and reality of endogenous social structures such as
nations, fixed societies and structures as the basis for social action. Social mobility between
spaces, societies and nations are aspects of the new mobilities that challenge the idea of social
mobility as only a vertical movement within a society.
We will follow this line and explore what kinds of social figurations or communities are
developing in mobile contexts and whether and how they reproduce themselves and change
according to circumstances. And how is power exercised and people controlled in the absence
of physically and socially stable social formations? To study how these processes are
established, what they entail and what they create is part of our ambitions in the study of
A Note on the Time/Space dimension:
Exploring forms of mobility the time – space dimension, at least, in certain contexts, should
be included as part of the analysis. In particular situations , the time – space dimensions may
merge or collapse such as when, through contemporary technology, people emplaced far from
each other, simultaneously, share in events which take place elsewhere. There could also be
contexts where people sharing geographical space, experience events defined by time or
even, time as such, differently – they may, perhaps, share physical space, yet experience
reality differently. In various local, regional and trans-national system of economic and
political organization, technological change affects ways of life as well as relationships and
identity. Following from such an approach, cultural identity whether moored in mobility and
movement or sedentary and attachment, becomes less the product of origin, but rather
produced of shifting and contingent historical forces.
Further reflections on the relevance of the time – space dimensions in relations to mobility,
concern ‘connectivity’ and the manner in which people produce/create and experience
connections as well as the potential tension between movement and attachment ; mobility and
sedentary. It might concern the ways in which people relate to time in order to create
connection between different spaces or, vice versa.
For the purpose of historical analysis, regions come and go in time. Thus, for any analysis, to
a certain extent, there would be a critical link between periodization and geographical units of
analysis, that is, how time chances space, and, for that matter, relationships. Regions, for
instance, may exist at some times in the past or present, but not at all times. This fact may
have importance for comparison between geographical and cultural regions, but also for
understandings of mobilities and how, why and where people or communities, move and to
what extent movement and attachment, over time, are due to local and external dynamics.
Regions are produced or collapsed at particular times in their history when societies/people
across “boundaries” are engaged in certain kinds of common processes or, also, cross-cultural
and cross-locality interactions – interactions that would all be characterized by particular
forms of dominance and power.
There is interplay between historical period and the construction/constitution of regions vs. a
legal, social and identity focus on bounded societies and nation-states. In such contexts, the
changing quality and quantity interactions should be examined in order to explore the
particular character of mobility and sedentarily; locality and trans-locality.
A note on mobility and sedentarism (sedentary metaphysics / nomadic metaphysics)
This binary pair has been developed along interrelated analytical concepts such as place,
identity and belonging, and livelihood.
In the initial phases of mobility studies, many scholars regarded mobility as antithetical to
sedentary lives, and attempts were made to construe a nomadic metaphysics in opposition to
sedentary metaphysics. This was particularly pronounced in studies of the relationship
between place and identity.
Earlier phenomenological studies of place took a rather idealist and essentialist perspective
emphasizing rootedness, boundness, and authenticity in the formation of identity. Place
constituted the raw material from which people made their home or dwellings, and a sense of
place was imperative to their identity.
Place, home, and roots are profoundly political and moral concepts (also within the social
sciences). Critique has been raised from e.g. feminism, post-colonialism and mobility studies
against romantic and essentialist notions of place, home and identity. In mobility studies,
focus shifted to “routes” rather than on “roots”, and phenomenological studies of so-called
non-places, e.g. “traffic junctions” such as airports, shopping malls etc., and “being on the
move” were carried out to grasp social formations different from sedentary, localized lives.
However, according to Cresswell (2002), these studies suffered from several shortcomings.
Firstly, they ignored social differentiation based on age, gender, ethnicity and class, as if the
experiences of non-places and being on the move are universal, crisscrossing social and
cultural boundaries. Secondly, by ignoring the significance of mobile people’s relations to
place in the formation and negotiation of identity, these studies threw the baby out with the
bathwater. Deterritorialisation of culture and mobility do not mean that places are
insignificant in identity politics. Also mobile people makes homes / dwellings out of the
places they temporary moor; a materiality and an aesthetic with which mobile people
communicate and negotiate their positions within in localized social structures.
Places should be understood as open, not closed; as locations in which different global and
local processes and flows intersect and articulates. One argument in globalization studies is
that people has to a larger extent become cultural interpreters themselves, using the “cultural
other”, whether geographical near or distant (communicated through electronic media), as a
significant other in their identity politics. In this context, mobile vs. sedentary life forms are
cultural representations, constituting each other.
An increase in the number of transnational (translocal) families, a larger mobile work force,
and globalization of finance, trade and production suggest that more and more people operate
their businesses, make their livelihood and support their families in multiple places at the
same time. However, this does not necessarily imply that they become restless and rootless;
rather they develop a sense of belonging and identity towards the places they operate. The
relationship between place, identity, and movement in such multiple emplacements should be
subject to phenomenological studies that are sensitive to variations in experiences based on
gender, age, ethnicity and class.
Cresswell, T. 2002. Theorizing Place, Thamyris/Intersecting, No. 9, pp. 11-32.
Gilbert, Erik. 2002. “Coastal East Africa and the Western Indian Ocean: Long-Distance Trade,
Empire, Migration, and Regional Unity, 1750-1970”. The History Teacher, Vol. 36, No.1, pp.
Freitag, Ulrike & Achim Von Oppen. 2010. Translocality: The study of Globalising
Processes from a Southern Perspective. Leiden: Brill.
Mbembé, J.-A. 2000. At the Edge of the World: Boundaries, Territoriality, and Sovereignty in
Africa. Public Culture, Volume 12, Number 1, pp. 259-284
Urry, John. 2000. Sociology Beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twenty-first Century.
London: Routledge