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Home « Research « Transverse subject « Archives - Thématiques transversales 2014-2018 « Transverse theme – Mobility and territoriality: experiences, concepts, issues

Transverse theme – Mobility and territoriality: experiences, concepts, issues

The objective of this cross-cutting theme is to bring answers to the following question: how can the concept and practices of mobility bring us to think over territorialities outside of classic binary representations? It is important to comprehend how mobility produces territoriality.

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Discours sur la mobilité à Roissy
© J.-B Frétigny

Nowadays, mobility is always present in everyday life. A significant number of notions have emerged to deal with its impacts on the relationships between societies and their territories:
• nomad societies (Knafou 1999, Retaillé 1998),
• networked societies (Castells 1996),
• the image of an archipelago, of circulatory territories (Tarrius 1994)
• or trans-localities (Appadurai 1995, Smith 1999).

Liquidity and fluidity have become important elements when speaking of the impact of nomadism on societies (Bauman 2000). These visions of mobility renew our ways of thinking territories and also, more generally, societies and their spatial and temporal dynamics.

However, it can be noted that the integration of a reflection on mobility is not yet fully achieved in the theories linked to space and its transformations. Numerous academics denounce this, underlining that much social science research is `a-mobile’ (Sheller and Urry 2006). There remains a lot to do in order to think a mobile territoriality.

Three elements are suggested to develop research in this thematic field.

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Poste-frontière Schengen
© J.-B Frétigny

The first is conceptual and consists in questioning the construction of knowledge to more successfully base an approach of mobility as a founding category of space, far from a fixist approach. What is at stake is to decipher the potentials of renewal of our ways of thinking territories through mobility. The aim is to go beyond static representations of territorial systems that reduce them, in a binary rationality, to more dual categories systematically perceived as contradictory.
New forms of living will also be dealt with.

The second element concerns the normative, political and social dimension of mobility. "Can we consider mobility as a value?" This is a question that sums up quite well the research done on this direction. On one hand, mobility is sometimes criticised because it is endured and over-estimated and the injunction of mobility by economical and public powers is felt as an intrusion. On the other hand, mobility is, on the contrary, considered as emancipating, as a source of empowerment and of new social statuses. This field will analyse the interactions between practices of mobilities and socio-spatial inequalities; studies concerning gender and health will surely be favoured.

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Pratiques mobiles à l’aéroport de Francfort
© J.-B Frétigny

The third element is methodological: we associate methods to develop a relational approach to territories based on individual practices of mobility. We will also, alongside some methods that were integrated in the studies done by the laboratory, combine new empirical approaches to mobility, which will enable us to comprehend differently the logics to displacement, such as techniques of circulating and multi-site surveys. The issue is to better link the individual and collective levels in order to fully integrate the interplay of individuals and stakeholders in the collective making of territories and to understand how they contribute to inventing new territorial models, especially urban. What is also at stake is to better take into consideration and associate the representations of places with the territorial practices of populations, as mobility is not limited to movement itself. Mobility is a whole that encompasses displacement and everything that precedes it, that accompanies it and that follows it. Emphasis is also placed on a greater articulation of the mutual effects of mobility dynamics that are deployed on a macro-scale with those of practices and representations of individuals which intervene at other territorial scales, especially at the scale of cities. Finally, a better mutual comprehension of the different types of human, material and immaterial mobilities, often studied in an isolated and sectoral way, is suggested.


Appadurai A., 1995, "The production of locality", in R. Fradon (dir.)

Couterworks: Managing the diversity of knowledge, New York, Routledge.

Baumann Z., 2000, Liquid modernity. Cambridge, Polity Press.

Castells M., 1996, La Société en Réseaux. L’ère de l’information, Paris, Fayard.

Knafou R. dir., 1998, La planète « nomade », les mobilités géographiques aujourd’hui, Paris, Belin.

Sheller M., Urry J., 2006, "The new mobilities paradigm", Environment and Planning, vol. 38, 207-226.

Retaillé D., 1998, "L’espace nomade", Revue de géographie de Lyon, vol. 73, n°1, 71-82.

Smith M. P., 1999, "Transnationalism and the city", in R.A. Beauregard, S. Body-Gendrot (dir.), The Urban Moment. Cosmopolitan essays for the 21st Century, London, Sage, 199-139.

Tarrius A., 1994, "Territoires circulatoires et espaces urbains", Les Annales de la recherche urbaine, Numéro spécial : Mobilité.

Persons in charge: Jean-Marc Besse, Nadine Cattan, Sylvie Fol

Updated on : 6 May 2015


Géographie-cités 2011, All rights reserved