Guest post by José Mapril. José completed his PhD in Anthropology at the Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon, with a thesis on Transnationalism and Islam among Bangladeshis in Lisbon. Currently, he is an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology (Universidade Nova de Lisboa) and a senior researcher at CRIA-NOVA, where he develops a project on re-migration, life course and future among Bangladeshis in Europe. He co-coordinates, with João Leal, the Circulation and Production of Places research group within the CRIA.

Review of Keywords of Mobility: Critical Engagements, edited by Noel Salazar and Kiran Jayaram (2016, Berghahn Books).

In the past few years, the mobility turn has opened new lines of inquiry into the analysis of a multiplicity of forms of movement (both spatial and social), and of immobilities and forms of emplacement. Keywords of Mobility is edited by Noel Salazar and Kiran Jayaram as part of the Worlds in Motion series - a collection brought together by the Anthropology and Mobility Network of the European Association of Social Anthropologists via Berghahn Books. Inspired by the keywords format, the authors propose an edited volume where mobilities and their complexities are addressed in eight keywords, each of them constituting an individual chapter: capital, cosmopolitanism, freedom, gender, immobility, infrastructure, motility, and regime. The edited collection includes also two concluding afterwards.

In chapter 1, Kiran Jayaram suggests that capital '(…) should be understood as the process whereby a person or thing moves with the intention of generating profit' (p. 27).  He argues for a deeper understanding of the capital-mobility nexus, by looking at different key mobile players such as students, professionals, tourists, business leaders, internal and international migrants, urban dwellers and the circulation of objects and different types of commodities. Simultaneously, Jayaram shows persuasively that the capital of mobility and the mobility of capital are interwoven in the production of (global and local) inequalities and the segmentation of movement --that is, fostering mobilities for desired figures (the entrepreneur, the highly specialized worker, the tourist), and controlling or stopping all together the undesired ones (as labor migrants and refugees).   

Malasree Acharya, in chapter 2,  reclaims the concept of cosmopolitanism, as an instrument of analysis in the anthropology of mobility. The aim is to reveal the relation between different mobilities and diverse cosmopolitan imaginaries such as 'vernacular', 'ghetto', 'marginal', 'discrepant', 'alternative', among many others.

Chapter 3, by Bartholomew Dean, addresses freedom to think about how it is frequently associated with mobility, both as practice and potential. Furthermore, it discusses how motion is also embedded in notions of power and governmentality that restrict, emplace and disallow spatial and social mobility to some people and groups at the same time it allows and encourages it in others.  

Alice Elliots’ contribution (chapter 4) examines the mutually constituted relation between gender and mobility by focusing on what she calls 'the master difference': the distinction between gender as classification and gender as performance. On one hand, the author emphasizes how gender implies distinct mobility practices and perspectives and, on the other, how mobilities performatively (re)produce gender (hegemonic and counter-hegemonically). The chapter thus highlights how different types of mobilities – migration, tourism, etc. – are performative of gender.

In chapter 5, Nichola Khan focuses on the ambiguities of immobility, namely waiting, boredom and hierarchies. This chapter focuses not only on those who are forced to immobility but also on those for whom immobility is the result of a choice – to reinforce their positions or contest/resist inequalities and oppressions.

Mari Korpela (chapter 6) proposes infrastructure as a keyword - more specifically, the material and institutional infrastructures that are involved in transnational forms of movement. The argument is that the existence of infrastructures (whether 'hard' or 'soft') is essential for (im)mobilities, even if these infrastructures are frequently ways of controlling, constraining and segmenting them. Furthermore, Korpela calls for attention to the importance of states in the regulation, control and government (in a Foucaultian sense) of population movements, through social processes such as 'illegalization' and denizenship (intermediate status between citizens and the undocumented).

In chapter 7, Leivestad writes about motility, as the potential to be both spatially and socially mobile. She contends that this keyword reveals aspirations and expectations in relation to potential mobilities. Simultaneously, and quite importantly, Leviestad highlights the need to look at motility not only in relation to the positively valued but also to dystopian values and the ways the capacities/potentials to move are '(…) unevenly distributed and part of unequal power relations in a world where control over people’s potential mobility has become an important asset for politics and governance.' (p.146). Thus, the author allows us to think about motility as a space of hope but also as an object of constraints and governmentalities.

In chapter 8, Beth Baker addresses the last keyword, regime, to show the mutual constitution of mobilities and immobilities through a focus on the regimes that govern them. The author explores the distinction between functionalist and discursive approaches to regimes and the power dynamics embedded in regimes of (im)mobilities in which movement is segmented according to certain categories of people. This chapter highlights the ways mobilities and immobilities are closely linked to each other and becomes visible in the regimes that regulate those allowed to move and those forced to immobility.

To conclude the collection, two afterwords address ethnographies of mobilities and the need to study socialities and mutualities. Brenda Chalfin discusses the ethnographic musings of the mobility turn. While addressing the complex relations between mobilities and different experiences of emplacement (and how both are socio-culturally constructed), Chalfin defends the strength of multilocal ethnographic fieldwork in grasping  existing  intersubjectivities and co-presences as of paramount importance to the study of (im)mobilities. In the final afterword, Ellen Judd reflects on the need for new structures of feeling that allow the study of forms of sociality, mutuality and co-responsibility (see hospitality, for instance) between those who are seen, produced and politicized as 'locals' and as 'strangers.'

Overall, this edited volume presents three major contributions. First, it reinforces the need to look for the connections between different types of (im)mobilities (that have frequently been studied separately), and to see how these are socially produced and mutually constitutive. For instance, the term 'expatriate' is frequently used as a form of distinction in relation to 'immigrant' - the first are seen (and frequently see themselves) as capitalized (economically, educationally, etc.) while the second are frequently described as 'poor'. The contributions collectively call on scholars to see different types of (im)mobilities as part of the same process in order to understand ethnographically its complexities, contradictions and ambiguities.

Second, this edited volume reveals how different mobilities are socially categorized and segmented, ordered and managed. Such segmentations are ways of governing movement itself. For instance, whereas refugees and labor migrants are frequently faced with severe constraints in relation to their movement and the conditions under which they are allowed to move, highly skilled workers and global investors/entrepreneurs enjoy an easiness of circulation that is facilitated through specific visa programmes. (Im)mobilities are segmented and differently categorized and these differences are closely related with historically specific forms of governing labor, different types of hierarchies and inequalities, and larger issues of global capitalism.

Finally, the contributions in Keywords of Mobility complicate in multiple and very pertinent ways the triumphant notions of mobilities associated with the current neoliberal moment, in which the individual is perceived as free of constraints. It does so by showing how mobilities and immobilites are intimately connected with power differentials, processes of segmenting movement, and the production of inequality.

Keywords of Mobility is a timely and highly pertinent contribution to a growing field of studies. Despite its recent publication date it is already resetting research agendas and promoting the advancement of discussion and debate around the issues it sets forth, as evidence in recent publications (see here and here for instance). This collection is an essential reading for academics, practitioners and students interested in the intersections between (im)mobilities, power and political economy.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Mapril, J. (2018) Book Review: Keywords of Mobility: Critical Engagements. Available at: (Accessed [date]).