Accepted Paper:

Stagnation and acceleration: the embodied movements of African traders in China  


Jing Jing Liu (University of Toronto)

Paper short abstract:

Drawing on preliminary ethnographic research with African traders, this paper analyzes the decision by African migrants to travel ‘quickly’ to China against the wider background of ‘slow’ modes of mobility that characterize African movement to Europe, and the ‘West’ more generally.

Paper long abstract:

Portrayals of the ‘slow’ modes of mobility of African refugee migrants to the EU dominate the popular and academic imagination, with stories focused on those who are interrupted mid-journey in Africa, detained at liminal border sites, or suspended in settlements across Europe. These narratives of slow movements and stagnation are familiar to African economic migrants – traders – who travel not to Europe, but instead choose to go elsewhere: moving back and forth to China with relative ease. Forcible stillness and stagnation in one place leads to not just active movement elsewhere, but anticipatory acceleration as response to a sense of deferred mobility.

The pressing force of waiting not only changes how African migrants move through space and time, but also the symbolism of space and time and how they attempt to regain agency. Active movement as rhythmically fast and directionally forward becomes a means to remake oneself - mind and body, attitudes and dispositions – according to expectations of how one should be. Hastened demands on labour production (bodies in motion), short durations of stays, hurried walks through the market, frequent cycles of trips per year are economic imperatives, but also aesthetic and ethical actions. Drawing on preliminary ethnographic research with African traders in Yiwu, China, this paper explores the moral economy of ‘slow’ and ‘fast’, the mentality of a ‘temporal development trajectory’, and a bodily compulsion to ‘jump’ ahead by traveling to elsewhere.

Panel MB-AMS04
"Moveo ergo sum": towards an anthropology of embodied mobilities [IUAES-Tourism, EASA AnthroMob]