Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Intensive Mobilities: Figurations of the Nomad in Contemporary Theory

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Intensive Mobilities: Figurations of the Nomad in Contemporary Theory

Article excerpt

Abstract. The figure of the nomad, representing the virtues of freedom, mobility, and exploration, is a frequently occurring trope within contemporary continental philosophy and social theory, derived chiefly from the work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. This paper will interrogate the concept of nomadism, firstly in the philosophy of these two foundational thinkers, and then subsequently in the feminist and posthumanist theorizations of Rosi Braidotti. Whilst accepting that Braidotti's challenges to sedentarist, essentialist metaphysical accounts of the transcendental subject are still politically relevant, it will be argued that the deployment of the nomadic figure--and more generally, the positing of an ontology of creative desire, or 'becoming'--risks not only absolutizing the historical contingencies of the digitized, postindustrial society that it seeks to criticize, but actually reinforcing the unsustainable ideology of perpetual production upon which such a society is premised.

Keywords: nomadism, subjectivity, mobility, temporality, postindustrial society

In The Anti-Christ Friedrich Nietzsche (2005, page 57) calls for a "becoming" of the individual premised upon "experimentation, the continuation of values in a fluid state, scrutiny, selection, and criticism of values in infinitum"--in short, a rejection of any politics of identity; any presumption of a static essence that underpins an individual. When considering the broader context of the philosophy that he seeks to criticize, and its tendency toward ontologization of normative social categories (from the outright misogyny of Plato and Aristotle onward), it is hard not to sympathize with such a goal. At the same time though, there are perhaps limits to the political utility of this principle of becoming. In an economy premised upon flexibility, circulation, and a constant demand for upskilling--a world of "fast, intensive mobilities", as Anthony Elliott and John Urry (2010, page 22) put it--there is something oddly familiar about submitting ourselves to a perpetual revolution of our own identities and values.

My intention in this paper is to both scrutinize and critique the notion of nomadic subjectivity that begins in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, is adopted as a principle of political action in the work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, but has found probably its most successful recent manifestation through philosopher Rosi Braidotti, whose interest in developing a Deleuzian conception of feminist subjectivity coupled with Luce Irigaray's ethics of sexual difference has gradually widened to encompass broader themes such as materiality and posthumanism. My aim is not to challenge the relevance of the problematic of becoming for feminist theory, which has quite reasonably tended to oppose itself to any fixed or essentialist conception of identity, but rather to ask whether an ontology of becoming tied to the figural posthuman nomad is the best way to challenge structures of domination in an epoch when change, mobility, and flexibility would seem to be closer to hegemonic constructs than ideals of resistance.

The mobility of the nomad: Deleuzian origins

The question of nomadism is first and foremost connected to issues of mobility. The nomad, as a sociological category, is a wanderer, an itinerant, a peripatetic who does not associate home with a fixed place. The very word is derived from the Greek vopaq, referring to those who roam in search of pastures for their herds of cattle or flocks of sheep. Paul Virilio (2008, page 25), whose philosophy seeks to historicize and contextualize questions of mobility, argues that historically, we

"find ourselves faced with a sort of great divide in knowing how to be in the world: on the one hand, there is the original nomad for whom the journey, the being's trajectory, are dominant. On the other, there is the sedentary man [s/c] for whom subject and object prevail, movement towards the immovable, the inert, characterizing the sedentary urban 'civilian' in contrast to the 'warrior' nomad. …

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