Discuss in which way the mobilities

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Title: The New Mobilities Paradigm

The New Mobilities Paradigm


Technological, institutional and geopolitical transformations that have occurred in the last thirty years have resulted in a substantial increase in the degree and rate of the movement of people, information and objects across the globe. As a result, a wide range of academic disciplines including sociology, human geography, and anthropology have increasingly paid great attention to issues of movement and travel since 1990. The traditional mobilities paradigm has failed to analyze effectively and understand the current wave of mobility that characterizes this 21st century. Consequently, this has pushed some scholars to develop a new mobility paradigm as a way of framing these issues of movement and travel in social sciences (Sheller, and Urry, 2006a). This paper will discuss how this new mobility paradigm goes beyond traditional approaches in theorizing movements and travel.

From a sociological perspective, the phrase mobility is defined as the movement of people down or up the scale of socio-economic status or the collective positional circulation of social classes. Sociology has been essentially concerned with the association of social mobility with processes of social transformation and social stability since the time of traditional theorists such as Emile Durkheim and Alexis de Tocqueville (Urry, 2000). Traditional theorists adopted a structural and stratification approaches to the understanding of sociology. This positional understanding of movement supposed by early scholars still predominates the field of sociology and geography. The traditional structural approaches still influence how sociology is taught nowadays in schools and the common assumptions about the definition of mobility.

However, some traditional sociologists place more focus on geographical mobility or what is mostly known as spatial mobility (Cresswell and Merriman, 2011). They addressed spatial mobility in various respects, such as the residential movement of groups into towns and the everyday movement of urban residents and commuters. Although Ernest Burgess and Robert Park paid more attention to the likely adverse effects of movement and social stabilization associated with rapid urban expansion, they nevertheless valued movement as an impetus for urban development grounded in the ultimate ability of human mobility (Kaufmann, 2011). Moreover, Simmel shaped the concepts of urban metabolism as well as the significance of movement as critical aspects of contemporary urban life, and this included even the mobility of capital (Urry, 2000). In our time, mobilities scholars are increasingly using some of the traditional mobility theories as the foundation for their theories. However, most mobility sociologists tended to ignore the spatial mobility.

The new mobility paradigm tends to effectively reunite some of the sub-fields that have been ignored in sociological research, such as the geographical mobility of humans and non-humans, the spread of information, capital and images and physical means for mobility including vehicles, infrastructures and software systems which allow communication and travel. Hence, the new mobility paradigm is more concerned with the critical factors that influence spatial movements, such as hierarchies, power, inequality and cultural factors. In short, it assumes a transdisciplinary approach towards understanding social mobility (Cresswell, 2010).

The new mobilities paradigm is connected to several new academic organizations, networks and research institutions that are endeavoring to re-position the theories of mobility. The transnational and interdisciplinary nature of the new mobilities paradigm has made it to have deep roots in sociology as well as apply across numerous disciplinary boundaries.

The new mobilities paradigm is of great influence to the human geography, tourism studies, migration studies, communication studies, transport studies and media studies due to its ability to go beyond the traditional perspective of social mobility (Büscher, Urry, and Witchger, 2010). The new mobilities paradigm focuses on the physical travel of individuals and objects as well as on virtual travel, imaginative travel, and communicative travel. As a result, it has encouraged transformative study agendas that reunite the different disciplines of social science in an effective way. Mobilities research has the power to reconfigure the limitations, approaches and theoretic lens of sociology. It does not only contribute to the understanding of global mobility or modern mobility but also contribute to a transformed sociology (Hannam, Sheller, and Urry, 2006).

In the last over ten years, the new mobilities paradigm has gathered considerable research that has had a great impact on traditional fields like sociology. In specific, the work of Urry has greatly challenged the passivism of sociological thought. Sociology has been resilient to the mobility transformation as compared to fields such as communication, geography, and transport studies. The approach of Urry’s towards social mobility goes beyond an explanation of the modern world as more movable compared to the past despite it being compared to that of scholars of global liquidity (Urry, 2000). Moreover, it postulates an interactive foundation for social understanding that places mobility at its core. The new mobilities paradigm has adopted a research agenda concerning the study of several complex systems, groups and practices of movement. Furthermore, it has assumed a normative approach towards dealing with the future movement about environmental sustainability. Sheller and Urry have worked hard to develop a shift in thinking about mobilities that have significantly influence several disciplines, including sociology (Sheller, and Urry, 2006a).

Although many traditional theorists described mobility as the logic of human motion, movement, and liquidity, it is crucial to note that the new mobilities paradigm is not just a contention of the innovation of movement in the modern world. Since early times, Mobilities have been a critical aspect of historical as well as the modern existence, of non-urban and urban residents, of non-Western and of Western experience (Cresswell, 2010). The forms of mobility are ever-changing to support different types of trade, communication, and urbanization. Today, some groups of people tend to live more free lives compared to the past. Despite this, it is critical to mention that spatial mobility, information mobility, technological mobility and capital mobility were as critical to the survival of earliest imperial cities and marine territories of early modernity just as they were to the 19th century and early 20th century mass-producing cities as they still are in this 21st century characterized by global trading ports, international trade, and contemporary global megacities (Hannam, et al., 2006).

The new mobilities paradigm has raised new questions about the rise of the public domain and the role it plays in civil society. This issue has been one of the typical problems of historical, sociological research. Concepts of private and public are very critical in sociological analysis, yet the traditional mobilities theories are lacking regarding a spatial viewpoint on the way the movements of individuals and information influence the establishment of societies or the way infrastructures and categorization systems may control access to and mobility between public and private places (Jessop, 2006). Advanced technologies of communication, new types of mobility, and the new positioning between mobile communication and travel and the infrastructure which support them have arguably reconfigured private and public life to an extent that new types of private-in-public and public-in-private have emerged, and this disrupt the universally held spatial theories of the public and private spheres. Publics are perceived not just as theoretical moments of communication but as more of deeply-rooted social and mechanical complexes including the infrastructure which enable mobilities and reuniting people, information, and objects. Increasingly incorporated forms of travel, personal communication, entertainment and electronic work have a great impact on the establishment of mobile publics, including the modern kinds of net-locality (De Souza e Silva, and Gordon, 2011)

Also, though the speed, degree and practical controlling of several free movements can be greater compared to the past, the new mobilities paradigm stresses the link of such mobilities to related immobilities and their continuous reconfiguration in the ancient time and the present time. The rise in cross-border trades and of the capacities for massive spatial dispersal and movement is accompanied by distinct regional accumulations of capitals essential for the controlling and checking off that distribution and movement. Such infrastructures and accumulations of resources are associated with spatial –temporal fixes (Jessop, 2006). The capability of the new theories to mobility to reconvene studies of mobile communication, migration, transportation, tourism, infrastructure and imaginative travel enable it to highlight the link between local and international power-geometries. This brings into perspective the political projects intrinsic in the power relationships informing practices of globalization that rely on different types of designed procedures of mobility (Cresswell, 2010).

Furthermore, by focusing on the link between scales and moorings, mobility and stillness, mobilities and immobilities, puts the new theories of mobility at the core of current mobilities research (Hannam, et al., 2006). Therefore, it is a great misconception to assume that the new mobilities paradigm only minds about the hyper-mobile global capitalism. The new mobilities paradigm analyzes different capabilities of mobility through the notion of motility, which is taken to mean the way in which people or groups takes the discipline of possibilities about mobility and uses them. An individual can have a high level of mobility without having actually to move or a person can be a mobility pioneer who lives an extremely spatially dispersed live but seek sameness everywhere. On the other hand, a person can be involved in substantial physical mobility yet have low motility as regards competencies, capacities, and choices, particularly if that mobility is involuntary. A perfect example of this is an individual caught in the grasps of a human trafficker. The new mobilities paradigm has considerably concentrated on issues of uneven mobility, mobility rights, justice and ethics and subaltern mobilities. Besides, this theory recognizes the significance of uprooting, grounding, dwelling and homing (Kaufmann, 2011).

The new mobilities paradigm helps us conceptualize capital mobility as the uneven dispersal of abilities and competences as regards the immediate social, political and physical affordances for mobility (De Souza e Silva, and Gordon, 2011). Capital mobility is also viewed as the combination of abilities to be mobile, such as proper documents, qualification and money, access to systems from a distance, physical capabilities for mobility, location-free information and access points, access to technological devices, safe meeting places, access to roads and vehicles, as well as resources and time for coordination. Uneven capital movement is essential for globalization processes, and it is created by certain types of retirement and remobilization. Thus, the new approaches to mobility are decidedly engaged with arguments over post-colonialism, globalization, cosmopolitanism, urbanism, surveillance and international governance of different forms of uneven mobility that are critical concerns to the modern sociology (Cresswell, and Merriman, 2011).

The new mobilities theory differs from traditional sociological theory as it is based on a wide variety of philosophical views to more fundamentally re-think the association between movement, bodies and space. Thus, it is not restricted by a micro versus macro fallacy of agency and configuration. It assumes a relational approach to ontology and therefore explores relationships across scales and envisages a distributed agency which is human as well as non-human and which flows around environments, people and objects. This gives it a great opportunity to challenge the limitations of social practices and makes it possible for us to locate social change and action (Büscher, et al., 2010).

The new approach to mobility pulls on phenomenology to reexamine embodied processes and the assembly of being-in-movement as a social affordance between the objects, senses, and kinesthetic activities. There are many different forms of affordances between diverse human bodies, technologies, practices of mobility, and events of mobility given the active corporeal involvements of bodies with the intuited world. Today, writings on movement have started to trace a more representative, performative, mobile controlling of human bodies in space movements. For example, some modern writings focus on the body’s micro mobilities in practices of dance or else the physical motion and rhythms involved in activities, including walking, rock climbing or cycling (Kaufmann, 2011).


The new mobilities approach addresses some of the traditional problems of social stratification model and urban ecology by reexamining a wide variety of traditional and modern sociological issues and thereby expanding the concept of social movement to broad-ranging spatiotemporal perspectives and different scales. It analyzes the historical and the current experiences of migrants, refugees, vehicle drivers, passengers and pedestrians. It also provides explanations for the advent and change of mobility in various countries and locales. Moreover, it investigates the kinetic practices of global capital, images, biological and chemical substances, technology, ideas, narratives and sounds. The new mobilities paradigm has been effective in bridging the different historical and geographical disciplines, repositioning the new approach of social sciences to be more comprehensive and using different scales to understanding the dynamics of agency and structure.


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Cresswell, T, and Merriman, P (eds) (2011) Geographies of Mobilities: Practices, Spaces, Subjects. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate.

De Souza e Silva, A and Gordon, E (2011) Net-Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World. Malden and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hannam, K, Sheller, M and Urry, J (2006) «Mobilities, Immobilities, and Moorings.» Mobilities, 1(1): 1–22.

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