I have an interest in the study of mobility. The concept of mobility is a broad approach that incorporates movement, motion, flow, transition, fluidity and much more. It centres on an appreciation of movement, as a thing worthy of study in-and-of-itself, but also as a force that shapes, influences and adds meaning to the world around us.

In academic-speak, my interest can be located in the ‘mobilities turn’ or the ‘new mobilities paradigm’ within the social sciences. The paradigm is a response to a world that is seen as being increasingly mobile. It includes a wide range of topics, from corporeal movement to mass migration, from transportation systems to tourism, and from cycling to communication technologies. Examples of mobilities research include, leisure walking, cycling to work, commuting, the increase in international students, immigration experiences and systems at European airports, the carbon-foot print and food miles of the components of our daily diet and the role of truly mobile computing and communication devices.  Furthermore, it acknowledges a greater role for approaches that centre on activity, performance and participation.

The immobile and questions of the creation and treatment of immobility are raised in considerations of mobilities. By highlighting the importance of movement and flow, the role and consequences of barriers and frictions are equally emphasised. In many cases, these concerns raise some of the most profound and significant questions for study in the area. Questions concerning who is free to live a mobile life, and who isn’t; or, how can some materials and ideas can spread or be halted.

However, if should also be noted that, as always, there are caveats and criticisms of the paradigm. It is relatively loosely defined (perhaps, intentionally so). On initial reading, the area can be seen to encompass all aspects of modern life and a globalised world! Also, as an emerging idea, its core concerns and approaches are still to be fully and clearly developed. The paradigm or turn needs to have an accepted body of abstract thought and a general outlook which will act as the foundation for research. In addition, mobilities literature needs to successfully incorporate differing and older perspectives if it is to gain widespread purchase.

The key strength of the mobilities approach is its challenge to the social sciences to broaden its inquiries and the methodologies to adequately include movement, mobility and fluidity at all scales. This opens up a rich arena of study, which, when supported by the developments of work on the paradigm, will hopefully produce a rich body of scholarship that will enrich our insights into the world around us.

Suggested reading:

Adey, P. 2009. Mobility. London: Routledge.

Cresswell, T., 2006. On The Move. London: Routledge.

Hannam, K., Sheller, M. and Urry, J. 2006. Mobilities, immobilities and moorings. Mobilities, 1 (1), 1–22.

Sheller, M., 2011. Mobility. Sociopedia.isa 1–12.

Suggested sites: 

mCenter, Drexel University’s Center for Mobilities Research and Policy

Cosmobilities Network, linking research into mobilities

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