Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Disrupting Migration Stories: Reading Life Histories through the Lens of Mobility and Fixity

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Disrupting Migration Stories: Reading Life Histories through the Lens of Mobility and Fixity

Article excerpt

Abstract. It has been argued that the 'mobility turn' is overcelebratory regarding human movement across space. Yet, critical studies of mobilities have emerged that refute this, demonstrating how various forms and aspects of mobility are bound up with unequal power relations. This paper engages with debates over migration and mobility through an in-depth analysis of three life history interviews recorded in England in 2011. The subjects of the interviews are all men in their fifties and sixties of South Asian heritage, who moved to England as minors, and who, as adults, worked in factories for at least three years. The stories in all their affectivity and sensuousness disrupt standard tropes regarding migration and contribute to our understanding of the relations between mobility, fixity, 'race', and class. The built-in historical perspective shows how, looking back, someone who may once have migrated across international borders does not necessarily see that as the most significant moment in their life; how someone's past moves within a nation-state may have greater significance to them than their moves into it; how people who move at one point can also be stuck, reluctantly immobile, at another; and how both the representations and materiality of mobility and fixity are imbued with, and reproduce, class inequality and racisms.

Keywords: mobility, fixity, class, racism, oral history

Introduction

Bridget Anderson begins her excellent book Us and Them: the Dangerous Politics of Immigration Control with what she calls 'the migration fairy story' in which a poor man sets off to find work across the border in a 'wealthy kingdom'. The aim of the book is then stated as being "to disrupt this story and the categories that underpin it" (2013, pages 1-2). This paper, drawing on a study of mainly working-class residents of one provincial city in early 21st-century England, continues the disruption of some standard tropes of contemporary migration stories. It takes its lead from Doreen Massey's conception of place. Massey, like Anderson, challenges the idea of a binary division between 'us' and 'them'. For Massey, it is not only those seen as migrants, but long-term residents too, whose dynamic stories are part of what links a "place to places beyond" in a "particular constellation of social relations" (1991, pages 28-29). Further, writing two decades later, Massey (2011) used the historical example of the enclosure of the English countryside to demonstrate the dialectical relation between mobility and fixity.

I will argue in this paper that the notions of mobility and fixity and their interrelationship make the 'new mobilities paradigm' a conceptually more agile container for studies of the migration of people than currently prevalent framings in migration studies. Flowever, in contrast to Anderson and Massey, my argument here will be based on an analysis of transcripts from oral recordings of people's life histories. In relation to some standard tropes of transnational migration studies, I argue that biographical narratives contain a built-in historical perspective that, by situating international cross-border moves across an individual's whole life, has its own disruptive power. Thus, looking back, someone who may once have migrated across international borders does not necessarily see that as the most significant moment in his or her life; someone's past moves within a nation-state may have greater significance to them than their moves into it; someone who moves at one point can also be stuck, reluctantly immobile, at another. I further argue that a life history methodology can reveal how both the representations and materiality of mobility and fixity are imbued with, and reproduce, class inequality and racisms.

The paper begins by reviewing some key insights of the mobilities paradigm (Hannam et al, 2006, page 2) regarding the contingency and meaningfulness of spatial movement per se, of which international migration is just one kind of event. …

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