Thursday, July 29, 2004

Restricting mobility

As part of my research on tensions between mobility and stability, I've become particularly interested in ways we attempt to control the movement of people - especially given the well-established Western (and especially American) tradition of associating mobility with freedom.

For example, all over London I saw anti-climbing paint signs. And I've yet to see a city that doesn't have signs prohibiting skating and cycling in certain areas. Even in places where you are allowed to go, not every type of shoe is acceptable.

When signs aren't enough, more potent deterrents include the military's Mobility Denial System: "once applied, the material will degrade or impair the adversary's ability to move." (via) And if you wanted to go even further in that direction, tasers and rubber bullets are used to stop people (usually) without killing them.

Coming at the question from a different direction, I've been thinking about how photographs stabilise the movement (arguably the essence) of parkour and skateboarding. And even how old daguerreotypes were incapable of capturing movement.

But mostly I've been thinking about how settled people have historically reacted to nomads. For example, under the Israeli state the life of the Bedouin has changed dramatically, and the Irish government has long tried to fix the itinerant problem associated with Irish Traveller culture. Mongolian nomads are increasingly moving to the city, but urban infrastructure and policy - as well as nomadic cultural values - are not adapting well to this shift.

The current global migrant labour force also embodies a range of social, political and economic inequalities. In places like South Africa, migrant labour involves unique interplays between urban and rural life. And women from the developing world provide the majority of domestic labour in the industrialised world. All over the world, migrant labourers continue to struggle for the same human rights extended to more settled peoples.

I don't quite know where I'm going with this yet, except to remind myself that the liberating rhetoric of mobile technologies completely avoids the frictions that exist between mobile and settled ways of life. And that means we're glossing over - even hiding - something that has a significant impact on people everywhere.

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