Accepted Paper:

London: nowhere, in particular  


Daniel Miller (University College London (UCL))

Paper short abstract:

This paper argues, on the basis of four London ethnographies, that spatial mobility is becoming increasingly subservient to relational mobility. New populations in London may not be concerned whether they are migrants, diaspora, or becoming Londoners. Relational mobility focuses instead on their concern with the viability of core relationships.

Paper long abstract:

This paper adds a concept of `relational mobility', to that of mobility as movement in space or a movement of people. For many people, movement of persons in respect to places has become less significant than shifts in relationships both to others and themselves. The evidence is derived from four ethnographies, all carried out on specific streets within contemporary London. London was once was a clear destination: a place you came to, came from and a point of identification. But for many people today, London exhibits the contradictions of the phrase, `nowhere, in particular', a unique site in its capacity to be no particular place. For many new residents, being in London, does not tell them whether they are migrants, part of a diaspora, or becoming Londoners. It is rather a site within which relationships may remain remarkably unchanged, or a site that facilitates radically new relationships. Spatial mobility becomes subservient to relational mobility.

This creates problems for both the politics of London and the academic apprehension, which tended to homogenise people into communities of common origin or common destination, or as neighbourhoods. Recent debates over cosmopolitanism, focus on the loss of identification with place, opposing national to global identity. This paper concentrates instead on what has replaced spatial identification. Relational mobility refers not just to mobility in relationships, but is an acknowledgment that for many participants in such urban ethnography, what matters most has become the viability of core relationships to family and friends.

Panel IW01
Mobility: frictions and flows