Mobility is a defining feature of humankind, a crucial element of biological and social evolution. In this era of trains, planes, automobiles and the internet, many seem to live in a state of perpetual motion, and yet others remain resolutely “in place”.
Given its association with opportunity, progress, and freedom, mobility offers a key sociological metaphor of our time. In this time of unprecedented movement, it is imperative to interrogate the social and cultural meanings and implications of 21st Century mobility.
Movement, and non-movement, govern a range of social, ethical and political relationalities. Bodies, capital, material objects, ideas and risk move across borders, through geographic sites, and via communication and cultural articulation in ways which have potential for social mobility, economic growth and intercultural learning, but are also constituted in disruption, dislocation, precarity and insecurity.
Mobility carries with it implications for belonging, ranging from cosmopolitan ‘belonging everywhere’, to belonging nowhere (statelessness). Similarly, movement cannot be disentangled from re-assertions of the importance of place in various forms of nationalism; xenophobia being among the most important social issues of our time.
Such complex questions are important for governance, policy discussion and public debate. Yet to understand these in ways which have value, in-depth, interdisciplinary theoretical and practical engagement is vital.
Mobility, here, highlights tensions between movement and stability, nation and globalisation. This is particularly the case in the Australian context. Geographer Graeme Hugo (2012:73) recently declared Australia to be the most mobile nation in the contemporary world, a claim based on proportions of people who were born overseas or born in Australia and living overseas, in addition to substantial internal mobility and high rates of shifting places of residence.
The Migration, Mobilities and Belonging (MMoB) Initiative brings together researchers from across The University of Western Australia who undertake research on movement, borders and transformation. Members use interdisciplinary tools to understand and address mobilities’ implications for social, cultural, political and economic life.