Accepted Paper:

Grounding mobility: rethinking the boundaries of our world and work  


Noel B. Salazar (KU Leuven)

Paper short abstract:

Using ethnographic data on processes of globalization and localization in Indonesia and Tanzania, this paper critically questions the current mobility turn. It stresses the significance of boundaries and counters theoretical amnesia by recalling some theorizing of the discipline's founding fathers.

Paper long abstract:

It has become fashionable to imagine the world in which we live as in constant motion. In theorizing what is distinctive about the condition of contemporary globalization, we tend to stress the breaching of boundaries by migration, mass communication, and trade, suggesting the emergence of novel forms of identity, economy, and community. This new reality is thought to be theoretically and methodologically challenging for a discipline that has accused itself in the recent past of representing people as territorially, socially, and culturally bounded.

Drawing on multi-sited and multi-temporal fieldwork in Indonesia and Tanzania, this paper critically questions the current 'mobility turn'. What are the contours of power, agency, and subjectivity in imaginaries of global mobility and the intersecting social categories those visions both reify and dissolve? How are widely spread practices of mobility (e.g. tourism and migration) erasing existing boundaries while at the same time erecting new ones? Is human mobility more than the newest form of accumulating symbolic capital? Who are the so-called 'immobile' and how are they creating their own forms of 'mobility'?

If mobility is the new mantra to be chanted by anthropologists, the chorus line might be older than most of us want to acknowledge. What makes my fieldwork on the circulation of mobility fantasies in two tourism destinations different from the research of Boas on the migration patterns of the Baffin Island Inuit or Malinowski on the trading cycle of the Trobriand Islanders? How can 'old' anthropology help us formulate answers to exciting 'new' questions?

Panel Plen3
Immobilities: new challenges for anthropology in a globalised world (Young Scholars Plenary)