Today I want to say a few things about my new book ‘Staging Mobilities’ (Routledge, 2013). In particular I want to speak to the idea of working with a general metaphor. In so doing I have been much inspired by Erving Goffman and his notion of seeing the social ‘as drama’ (see Goffman (1959) The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life). I want to return to the epistemological and methodological issues related to the use of metaphors in social theorizing in a later blog post, but today I mainly want to present the content of the ‘Staging Mobilities’ metaphor.
The key point about the ‘staging’ metaphor is that it lends itself to a situational understanding. Much social science works from grand and abstract theories ‘down’ to the concrete acts. What I propose with the ‘Staging Mobilities’ notion is a way to grasp the situational as concrete, the individual as personal, but also as socially, institutionally and materially embedded into ‘systems’ and conditions without the individual’s power and capacity to alter. This is, of course, reminiscent to the old discussion about structure and agent, individual and society. However, here I try to present it with a perspective that hopefully also will mobilize the experiences and knowledge about being-in-the-world that the reader should be familiar with. Let me give an example. In order to set the ‘scene’ for this way of understanding I open the book with this sentence:
Imagine driving (by car, bus, train or bike) to work and walking from the parking lot or station to your office. During your trip you must certainly have been involved in multiple interactions with fellow drivers and pedestrians. You are most likely to have drawn on routines as well as you might have had to improvise to work your way. Regardless if you may recall what was on your mind, the trip is sure to be a reflection of who you are and how you relate to the built environment and your consociates. The morning trip to work is thus an embodied practice, often influenced by other social agents, and always within a material and physical setting. Your situational mobility from the morning trip moreover has elements of your own choice such as selected route, mode of transport, relaxed or aggressive driving, choice of seat etc. These elements are all expressions of a ‘staging’ with a relatively high degree of self-determination. But along the way your practices where modified by traffic lights, time tables, road design, traffic regulations, information systems etc. reminding you that there is a ‘staging’ going on from above as well. If you think about the actual situations of getting to work in this way, you are very close to the key theme of this book: situational mobilities (Jensen 2013:3)
The idea is to ask the reader to connect the general research issue to his or her own experiences (equally a theme I shall return to in a later blog post). Then I propose to set the situational mobilities at the centre of a theoretical framing that in more explicit terms try to deal with precisely the fact that some of our everyday life actions are of our own making and decisions, whereas others are ‘given’. By using the very simple notion of staging from ‘below’ and ‘above’ I propose to work towards the specific mobile situations as something playing out in this field of tension:
Mobilities do not ‘just happen’ or simply ‘take place’. Mobilities are carefully and meticulously designed, planned, and ‘staged’ (from above). However, they are equally importantly acted out, performed and lived as people are ‘staging themselves’ (from below). Staging Mobilities is a dynamic process between ‘being staged’ (as for example when traffic lights commands us to stop, or when timetables organise your route and itineraries) and the ‘mobile staging’ of interacting individuals (as for example when we negotiate a passage on the sidewalk, or when we choose a particular mode of transport in accordance with our self-perception) (Jensen 2013:4)
Finally I choose to locate the situational mobilities within a trifold nexus of the material spaces and design, social interaction, and embodied performances. Many more themes probably could have been brought into consideration, but ‘the map is not the world’. In other words, a model and a theory need to simplify and frame the phenomena studied by utilizing some level of reduction. Having said so, I don’t think it is too far out to argue that a mobile situation takes place within a material space, amongst other mobile subjects and always as an embodied act.
Well, if that all makes sense is of course up to the reader. So the book is out there for you to judge.
/Ole B. Jensen