Following what, when and where to? „A mobilities lens to the human mobility-environmental change nexus“
On June 6-7, a conference at Wageningen University brought researchers together who come from different disciplines and conduct research on the nexus of migration and environmental change in all parts of the world. Its aim was to reflect their research through a ‚mobility lens‘, and, vice versa to critically reflect upon the mobility studies and mobile methods.
Mobility studies claim to understand the ’social world’ „as a wide array of economic, social and political practices, infrastructures and ideologies that all involve, entail or curtail various kinds of movement“ (Büscher & Urry 2009: 100). This is why researchers should study the travel of people, objects, images or communication, which also put forth a productive discussion on methods and on how to actually research entities on the move. As a seminal paper stated, „mobile methods“ should deal with the fleeting of people and objects, with distributed activities which are neither only here nor only there, with multiple sites, where things take shape differently, with the sensory of the subjects being on the move or with the kinaesthetic qualities of following the movement of others.
Although I agree very much with such methodologies and methods, it is yet remarkable that most of the mobile methods reflections focused very much on „mobile and active subjects at the expense of a broader understanding of materialities, practices and events“ (Merriman 2014: 169). What about researching the travel of information in institutional ecologies? What about the mobilisation of things, resources and people in order to stay at or to leave a place at a later point of time? And what is the researcher’s positionality and sensation following such subjects and objects?
Especially interesting to me was a panel which focused on the question: „Following what, when and where to?“ and invited the researchers to reflect upon mobile methods in migration research. The talks explored different types of mobilities, that is for instance, mobilities of people, paper objects or data, and critically scrutinised the use, relevance, and constraints of mobile methods.
Ingrid Boas for instance showed in her case study, how the bit by bit erosion of ecologies in Bangladesh initiates a long-term and careful decision making process regarding who should move when to where or what and whom to mobilise in order to stay. This made a more long-term engagement with one place and a mobile approach necessary. Similarly, Annemiek Pas Schrijver (Stockholm University) presented insightful findings on the lives of pastoralists in Northern Kenya and convincingly argued, that „place takes an important role in the lives of pastoralists who are more than only ‘on the move’“. Joris Schapendonk again reflected on the positionality of a mobile researcher who conducts a „trajectory ethnography“, that is, tracing different informants being on the move. How to keep track, when the researcher is entangled with a time regime other than her informant? And how to speak for the informants without patronising or othering them? Moreover, he argued to also actively include the sensations and feelings of the researcher when conducting mobile research. I presented a paper, which does not deal with the circulation of people but with forms, reports and datasets gathered, processed and exchanged between different sites within an institutional ecology of European border control. Drawing on actor-network theory, ethnomethodology and infrastructure studies I outlined three different approaches of researching such a travel of information and discussed additional methods to be applied.
I think, that this panel was a great starting point, to again think about, to rediscover and to develop methods, which focus on the im/mobilities and mobilisation of people and things, on the sensations of the informants and the researchers on the move, and which relate long-time planning processes and local ecologies to forms of mobility and staying.