Friday, November 02, 2012


I have spent all last month without writing, partly because of life being complicated, partly because every time I sit I am trying to get back to some of the central ideas of this work and figure out what I am doing.  Ok so why am I not in migration, globalization, transnational studies, even when of course this body of work makes a lot of contributions.

Breaking down, first migration. Even if it got complicated with time it still based on a tradition of focusing in point of departure and arrival. The main concern being:1) the problem of strangers in the first world and how to regulate them, 2) why people leave their third world countries (in some cases how to stop them). A lot of these works have a critcal perspective on government concerns and policies and regulation of movement yet they get somehow involved, end up reproducing some state logics even when unwanted. A lot of work criticize state policies, think alternative ways of more fairness with migrants, describe the complexities of migrants lives and their strategies to make a living in te new location, get marveled with hybridity (ok old topic but still in the spirit). All this is very useful, but it brackets movement.

As soon as I state this I have a second voice saying, ok but what about Malkki who is the first to propose the sedentary and nomadic metaphisics way back (and then taken over by many of the mobility people beyond anthro), what about Marcus with the multisited ethnographies and the "follow the people, object, story", what about crossing borders with migrants.  Sure all this are serious engagements with moving, and yet I also see big limitations. Malkki mentions nothing about any travel or movement other than announce that refugees and migrants have a metaphysics other than the state, Marcus talks about studying multiple spaces as different steps in a trajectory, border crossing literature and I could say also filmography, discuss the hardship and embodied tensions of getting into a country, they do  describe trips and this is something I take, yet they can only see the extraordinary of the travels as one time events, a hardship that ends either with tragedy or settlement (or settlement in constant tragedy). 

 There are very interesting descriptions of the hardship of illegal immigrants arriving to a new place, and this type of movement is well explained, yet this is only one type of movement. Maybe we could link these narratives about african migrants to europe with the border crossing (thanks Sara K for this idea), very hard travels, with people profiting from despair, people almost dying in a container box to make it to europe. These descriptions sometimes slide into the descriptions of human traffic, this new concept and object of concern, yet critiqued by many authors including Bloch here. So this is a very specific mobility, one that has to be carefully examined yet not the only relevant one.

What I see missing is an engagement in movement as material practice, movement as relevant moment (so Malkki and Marcus are totally interested in it yet they bracket it), movement as ongoing and not a one time event (as border studies or migrant studies that follow one time event of migration). My critique is that the migration literature, even great work as Lissa Malkki on refugees leaves a whole gap by not asking how exactly travel happens and what role does it have as people "settle" in a new location (ie do people travel more often the first years and then less, is it the opposite, do people need to establish first and then start to travel, is it travel only "back" where is back?, is it only one place? is travel an obligation, pleasure a combination, etc etc etc).

Ok globalization lit. has been crticized largely. Of course HArvey, great great contributions,  Sakia Sassen and the new shape of cities  i was never convinced by how this was useful other than a description), Jameson advanced capitalism, interesting. But of course all  the critiques come fast,  especially from the feminist front, that raise in the late 1990s Massey, Ong, and many others. They ask who exactly has access to time space compression and who remains even more entrapped, who accesses these flows, where can we see advanced capitalism if we have never been modern, had the third world been always post-modern then? Flow remainsan obscure concept, as an abstract force delocalizing people, ideas, objects, rendering invisible all the ships, trains, charter workers, as if teletransportation was the main source of displacement (For an advanced critique to Flow see Rockefeller).

Then we have the transnational studies, really interesting stuff, cutting edge, lots of funding directed to these research, big stars being created. The literature makes one big step in the line of my critique, and say ok we have people living dual lifes, nuclear families spread between two or more nations, people coming and going across different states, what does it mean to be a citizen then? does it mean anything anymore (here enter all the debates on citizenship, sovereignty, across the social sciences). In anthropology, Aiwa Ong and flexible citizenship and an introduction of the changes of the intimate in the contemporary, what happens in non western elites, what happens with gender, what happens with family, brings the new notions "astronaut father", "astronaut children" pushes the field of anthropology to see the local in a differnt way and all social sciences to see the detail and the intimate, and not only talk about policies and numbers. Feminist saying we need to see simultaneously the global and the intimate (Pratt). Many engage with the work by Appadurai and the -scapes as a the apearence of culture in other place as people move and take culture with them. In this line emerges the work on transnational identities  (here again tanks Sara K), mostly always dual, Costa Rica in New York, Japan in Brazil, etc,etc etc. All of this is great.

Ong the new intimate, the new family, the new citizenship, the new nation state, the novel identities, the culture spreading outside the local. And yet how exactly does movement take place and what are the means of movement, what is the frequency,  what is the preference, what other spaces that are not the nations state emerge or get infolded into te movement, all this is not so explored. Appadurai leaves a lot of questions, how scapes are made, how exactly they work, how they travel, what is beyond resignifying. In the line of dualities as the Ricos in NY (can't remember references), how are this simultaneous belongings maintained, what is the role of traveling stuff, of course all the literature of remittances  packages and communication, but also ow is the access, how space gets connected and not only "transformed", do people move to several places, how do they move, what do they move with them, what do they send, how do they infold Ny and send it to CR, not just CR in NY. Here the work of Peters who studies urban indigenous is very interesting, she proposes that moving out of a reservation and into the city is comparable to  a transnational movement and thus uses this literature to understand it. But again travel is mentioned on a side as necessary consequence of the fact people had to leave their place, she sees the work of reconnection traveling back has, but it does not appear to do much more than that, reproducing romantic notions of indigenous attachment to land. 

I find  all this literature is very much following state logics, even if they may be very critical, they seem to either celebrate or be terrified by the state being destroyed by the flows, the identities becoming mobile and multiple, citizenship put into question. The tendency in this literature is to reassure the idea of the state as sedentary (Malkki), as if state could not deal with flows, with making heirachies in the  difference (I wont say multiplicity), and again not much room for studying the work that movement does, as an action, as a material trajectory of bodies shaping and not juts cutting and destroying space. Here Virilio stands alone, only retaken by Deleuze, and people who now study moving militarism, but not so much to think mundane relations. Virilio sayin ok if we want to see power we have to pay attention to speed, not holding a place but who controls, polices the street (hardt and negri put this in the centre). Simple idea, and huge change of perspective. Sate, and power  is mobile too. So then we better hurry and start think how to study movement as movement, and not as effect over static stuff (citizenship, nation, state, identity, etc).

Also if all sociality is shaped by either state and/or capital, by being centre or marigin / advanced margin, there is no room for superposed territorialities,  assemblages of power and subordinate, intimate relations between moving people, objects, information, chains of moving goods that result from friendship. I think the big problem is thus to give all the credit to these structured power relations and think their are the only existing ones, the only to be thought about, and let them be the only big idea shaping your field.    

I guess I would link the literature on circular migration and rural to urban more to this literature as they also stress dual lives, between rural village and city suburb, again it is mostly dual. Yet this literature does show cyclical travel (and not just one), the logistics of travel, the transformation of space resulting from the rythmical translation.

Finally mobility enters. Brought by all the british who bring us back to material relations yet do not offer a unified field of solutions to the previous problems. Probably the first is  John Urry and his work on tourism. How is he different from migration and transnationality (I was not very clear about this, just recently thought about this)? The main thing is he distinguishes tourism from permanent relocation (migrants), and travel to work (transnationals), thus he opens up space to think of other "flows" that are not only economic and national, that are not the main problem of governments who need to control its citizens (only a problem in regards to how to take profit of it). Also great he both focuses on the production of knowledge and the production and infrastructure of movement in his foundational "Toursit Gaze".  Then he is taken as one of the founders of the mobility turn, yet a lot conflates in this new field and it is not very clear how it is absolutely different from for example the field of migration, the journal Mobilities includes an interest in migration and transmigration and also in the Appadurai line of moving ideas. When taken as a field a skeptic and transnational-studies-faithful-reader would say, "so why create a new field and a new concept in the end we research lives in between different nations". So all the specificities Urry may bring are dissolved in the making of the field.

Ok it is not just Urry, we have Tim Cresswell who studies train bumps and in 2006 publishes one of the general texts of the turn, "On the Move", pretty interesting, opens up a lot, collects a lot f the interesting stuff, jumps form topic to topic. Not mind blowing and not at all making clear what exactly the contribution of the "turn" is. Then of course we have Thrift, always interesting, always focusing on movement, what disintegrates, the unstable, the limit, and all the non representational theory etc etc.  I have sometimes a hard time with him, his theory are a bit obscure and  it is hard to follow how he puts the ideas to work, what exactly he achieves with the grand theoretical aparatus. But I follow him and share most of his interest. What I like the best is the spatialization and affectiveness of power in neoliberalism, when he goes large scale.

Form the British front also Tim Ingold, anthropologist, interesting yet not very usable, also grand theory mash up of interesting stuff, similar concerns, but his analysis is not totally mind blowing and the theory is too of a mush to make it work elsewhere. He has an interesting development of walking, and he does a very compelling methodological  intervensions, using journals, media, walking with others, something absolutely necessary if the turn is a turn. Then Urry  takes over the attribute of being a founding father  and  publishes "mobilities" in 2007 trying to sum up, define and make a program.  I do not think the book is so convincing as it was his claim of the need to take tourism seriously, but makes a couple of contributions. Yes he makes an great genealogy, yes he mentions the need to have mobile frameworks of society and abandon sedentary perspectives (but the way he does it is a bit too ambitious,  Virilio is probably one of the ones who did this, but without announcing itand then Deleuze and Guattari, and so on), also he does say we have to examine the material conditions of movement, yes I think this is central. On the other hand he establishes bullet points for his program and it seems that more than less researchers are doing this. Again it is not totally clear  what the mobility turn contributes to the social sciences, more than the claim of doing something new. A key contribution though is his claim for a need to study infrastructure, so moving beyond the airport as a metaphor of globalization, to the airport as a machine that makes people travel thousands of kilometers (and if I ever read one more article about airports I want to hear about pilots and mechanics and steward and newspaper vendors and about the homeless sleeping in it -there was one art about this really great-, and maybe the physics of the airplane). Ok so I like Urry but in spite  I have wished that his "Mobilities" was going to be a cornerstone for my dissertation it is not at all, I share the general ideas, follow his need of the study of the material conditions, but find no specificity that help me think my fieldwork. Virilio ,with all his crazy writing about the speed of missiles and disable people in a tank, was more present as I did field work. Finally I should mention as part of the turn Mimi Sheller, the only female and the only non british, based in New mobilities research centre in Philadelphia. I have not read her work, shared a panel with her, she seems to be very interesting and she does work with Urry in the mobile technologies line. I guess in the specific research and when they talk about mobilities in plural it is easier to see the newness and specificity, as they can go much further than any migration or just translocal type of analysis, I can't say much about her, I will have to read.     

All this to say I guess i am trying to see how some of the critical theory can inform my work with a perspective on movement, also being aware I am not breaking apart from all  the contributions of these lines of inquiery. With the last field in particular I have an ambiguous position. I have all these interests in common I hopefully work on mobility at the centre, yet as disperse and diverse movement this movement is and because I cannot totally explain what I experience in the field only using the mobilities literature,  I cannot only position as part of the grand young turn. Rather I may bring even more diversity by using diverse theory that makes sense. 

So, this is a whole post on what my work is not, I guess soon I will have to post about what it is, and I will go back to space and power geometries (Massey), which in the end interests me more than airports and dual citizenship (with all due respect). And I will bring  some exceptions form these big lines that I do find useful. And I guess I should do the same with, maybe affect and race, even when I am not sure yet what exactly I am doing in the fields. Mobility-space, race (here enters all the postcolonial too I guess),  affect, I guess those are my keywords, and i guess I will have to make a long explanation of why indigeneity is only a tangent or why I was tired to stay in that field alone.   [The only thing  I do know is I have downloaded many articles by Saldanha yesterday, just finding he has some similar interests.]


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