Movement and Connectivity

Configurations of Belonging

by Jan Simonsen (Volume editor) Kjersti Larsen (Volume editor) Ada Engebrigtsen (Volume editor)
Edited Collection VIII, 228 Pages


Through a series of case studies from Southern and Eastern Africa, Oceania, and Europe, Movement and Connectivity: Configurations of Belonging explores the analytical usefulness of the concept of «mobility» for anthropological thought and theorization.
The book scrutinizes mobility through long-term ethnographies that encompass life histories of individual persons, cyclical household developments, and the evolution of communities and networks. It shows how the social and spatial complexity of mobility increases with time and how socio-political and economic changes affect values, ideas, and practices in local life-worlds.
The case studies examines mobility from below and as processes constitutive of society and identity – processes through which mobility is perceived and experienced as part of life. How do people see their own local life-world and its (un)connectedness to other societies? To what extent can a mobility approach advance our understanding of the complex relationship between migratory practices, experiences of belonging, and the kinds of movement and connectivity that make and re-make people as well as their societies?
Movement and Connectivity: Configurations of Belonging re-questions and re-thinks relationships between space, time, and livelihoods and explores how differently motivated geographical movements may be perceived and lived as part of wider social complexities.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction (Kjersti Larsen / Jan Ketil Simonsen / Ada I. Engebrigtsen)
  • Anthropology and the question of mobility
  • Mobility from below
  • Mobility through time, transformative processes and societal continuity
  • Bibliography
  • 1 Migration From Eelam (Sri Lanka): Terrorists, Model Citizens, and the People Left Behind (Øivind Fuglerud)
  • Regimes of mobility
  • Transformation of the Tamil refugee
  • Integration and transnational engagements
  • Networks and social capital
  • Success with a cost
  • Transcontinuity: The larger picture
  • Bonding, bridging and linking social capital
  • The people left behind
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • 2 Mobile Subjects: Power Relations and Tactics for Survival (Ada I. Engebrigtsen)
  • Mobility, nomadism, mobile subjects
  • Migrating Romanies and Norwegian Roma
  • Tactics and strategies
  • Methods
  • The Roma … Who are they? Historical background
  • Romanian Roma: Looking for greener pastures
  • Norwegian Roma: A national minority, surviving as Roma
  • Social organization and cultural traits
  • Ritual separation
  • Ethnic groups or network
  • Strategies and tactics: Nomadic and sedentary power modes
  • Migrants, tourists, and EU citizens: Controlling mobility
  • Mobility: Creating and recreating the social
  • Tactics of dichotomization and complementarization
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • 3 ‘This Is Where We Belong’: Migration and Intersecting Mobilities in Zanzibar Town, Zanzibar (Kjersti Larsen)
  • Methodological and ethnographic considerations
  • Mobility and connectivity
  • When mobility appears plausible, yet becomes impossible
  • Feeling stuck in a world of envisioned mobility
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • 4 Vertical and Horizontal Mobility among the Ju|’hoansi of Namibia (Jennifer Hays / Velina Ninkova)
  • Mobility, socio-economic status and identity
  • Nomadism and the San
  • Background: Culture, land tenure, and social relations
  • Colonization and Namibian independence
  • The Omaheke
  • Nyae Nyae
  • Mobility axes
  • Socio-economic mobility among the Ju|’hoansi
  • Horizontal social mobility
  • ‘Vertical’ social mobility
  • Schooling and social mobility
  • Risks linked to vertical social mobility
  • Can one simultaneously maintain horizontal networks and pursue vertical pathways?
  • Geographical mobility: Village/Town/International
  • Horizontal geographic mobility
  • Vertical geographical mobility: Windhoek
  • International travel
  • Mobilities square
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • 5 Moving Moorings, Nurturing Flows: Scales of Tongan Mobilities (Arne Aleksej Perminow)
  • Histories of Polynesians on the move
  • Tauhi vaha‘a: ‘Nurturing the space (between)’
  • Pusiaki: Everyday constitutive flows of persons and things
  • Re-moving moorings, re-scaling flows
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • 6 Kinship and Mobility in Urban Zambia (and Beyond) (Jan Ketil Simonsen)
  • The case of an unexpected visitor
  • Trajectories of mobility
  • Relatedness beyond Zambia
  • Kinship, urbanization and mutual aid: A view from earlier migration studies
  • Flexibility of kinship terms and patterns of mobility
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Epilogue: A Mobility Perspective and the Writing of Existential Power (Nigel Rapport)
  • Preamble
  • A look back
  • The book’s tenets
  • The book’s contributions
  • A look forward
  • Anthropology’s tenets
  • Anthropology’s contribution
  • Bibliography
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index

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This book is a result of collaborations between researchers who carried out ethnographic field research in different parts of the world, and who share a common interest in migration and the relation between livelihood and shifting modes of social organization. The collaboration was motivated by the idea of approaching processes of migration and movement through the concept of ‘mobility’. The aim has been to rethink our ethnographies within a conceptual framework of the anthropology of (im)mobility. Our method has been to bring our diverse and individually produced ethnographies on movement in time and space into dialogue with each other at a higher level of abstraction for the purpose of more systematically probing the theoretical implications of a turn to ‘mobility’; re-questioning and re-thinking the relationship between space, time and livelihoods, and how differently motivated geographical movements are perceived as part of a wider social complexity. We thought this a viable way of unpacking and questioning the legitimacy of the tacit sedentarist assumptions of social research.

The project has been a collaboration between researchers from Norwegian Social Research (NOVA) at Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences; the Department of Ethnography, Numismatics and Classical Archaeology, Museum of Cultural History, at the University of Oslo; and the Department of Social Anthropology at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim. Staff at these departments constitute the core members of the Norwegian Network for the Anthropology of Mobilities, supported by the Norwegian Research Council, Program for Institutional Development and Collaboration (grant no. 222825). Earlier drafts of the chapters were presented at the Biennial Trondheim Colloquium in Social Anthropology, organized by the Department at NTNU. We are grateful to Nigel Rapport, Professor of Anthropological and Philosophical Studies at the University of St Andrews, for generously writing an epilogue to the chapters.

Jan Ketil Simonsen, Kjersti Larsen, and Ada I. Engebrigtsen
Trondheim and Oslo, January 2017

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This book discusses the question of mobility through time. Having carried out longitudinal fieldwork, the authors of the various chapters explore oscillation between movement and fixity through long-term ethnographies. Such ethnographies encompass life histories of individuals, household developments and the evolution of family and community configurations, and networks. The venture involves an analysis of how values, ideas and practices are affected by socio-political and economic change on the national and international levels and in what ways people’s mobility-formation interacts with socio-cultural reproduction and change. A longitudinal perspective foregrounds how meanings and practices of mobility change in relation to political and economic regimes, in life-cycles of individuals and groups, and across generations. It allows an investigation of how mobility forms part of social and cultural processes constitutive of new social forms, networks and economic circumstances. In particular, a longitudinal perspective enables an understanding of interconnections between physical and social mobility – a connection which is emphasized throughout.

From this perspective, the authors discuss mobility within their regions of study, specifically Southern and Eastern Africa, Oceania and Europe, which in turn constitute the context for their individually produced empirical material in relation to the movement and connectivity of groups and persons within a specific time span, not only in terms of historical processes of change, but also from a subjective perspective. They broach questions such as: how does time interplay with feelings of belonging, with exclusion, uncertainty and expectation? and in what manner do imagined versions of and expectations for the future affect practices and experiences of the present? Thus, attention is paid to the various ways in which mobility is ← 1 | 2 → significant over time; in what manner it intersects with socio-political reform and reorientation, and the way the very meaning of movement may change with time and according to the social circumstances in which people find themselves. To this end, the diachronic dimension of the material is highly significant in the understanding of relationships between mobility, connectivity and configurations of belonging.

This book emphasizes not only movement in itself, but the manner in which a focus on mobility may advance an understanding of processes constitutive of society. As David Parkin (1998: ix) has previously argued: ‘movement within one or two generations rather than fixed settlement has generally characterized human populations’; this is a dimension which many anthropologists have already incorporated into their analyses. Still, if modes of mobility are to be considered constitutive of society, social configurations and experiences of both connectivity and belonging have yet to be investigated. Connectivity, that is, the state of being related, does not presuppose a fixed settlement, but it does depend on the ability or wish to establish and maintain communication between people and localities. Following from this idea, belonging is perceived in terms of ‘experience’: a phenomenology of locality where contestable collective memory and ways of remembering would play a significant role in the creation of identity configurations’ (see also Lovell 1998: 1). This means that ‘belonging’ is mainly addressed from the subjectivity of those who move, have moved or stayed put. In this volume, belonging will thus not be scrutinized according to its current usage within discourses on autochthony, as well as in current trends of identity-politics, where increasingly finer distinctions are drawn between ‘us’ and ‘others’ (Geschiere 2009: 92). The chapters rather apply longitudinal ethnographies to reinsert the dimensions of experience and social memory into the study of movement and migratory practices, that is, modes of mobility.

Comparatively, the various case studies show different social effects of mobility within and across different societies and historical periods. In Chapter 1, Øivind Fuglerud discusses how, in the case of Tamil Sri Lanka, international migration has transformed previous caste structures into an economically constituted class formation. Contrary to how international migration has transformed previous forms of social structures, Jennifer ← 2 | 3 → Hays and Velina Ninkova (Chapter 4) highlight how movement within a designated territory remains crucial for the reproduction of Ju|’hoansi San identity and for the reproduction of sociality moored in nomadic values and ethos. While a mobility approach brings up the importance of territory among the Ju|’hoansi San, in Chapter 2 Ada I. Engebrigtsen discusses the socio-political and historical effects of de-territorialization and a self-image as mobile subjects in the case of Norwegian and Romanian Roma. Engebrigsten conveys how a culturally formatted perception of movement and non-submission to state control generate a particular kind of life-world and sense of self. In Chapter 3, Kjersti Larsen explores identity configuration among residents of Zanzibar Town. She focuses on generational movements and the ways in which spatial emplacement beyond Zanzibar produces a particular form of ‘multiplex’ belonging. Larsen emphasizes the significance of the historical dimension to discern socio-cultural effects of oscillation between mobility and stasis through the life trajectory of individuals and groups. In a different manner, the relation between mobility and stasis is brought out by Jan Ketil Simonsen in his case study of the Mambwe-speaking people of Zambia (Chapter 6). Applying a mobility approach, he examines kinship relations as relations facilitating a sedentary life-world in a society where people constantly need to move between places. These two case studies equally show how a mobility approach captures the social fabrication of continuity. In a similar vein, in the context of migration between Tonga and New Zealand, Arne Aleksej Perminow (Chapter 5) investigates how Tongans in New Zealand continuously engage in a recreation of what they perceive to be a Tongan life-world.

Conjointly, the chapters bring to the fore the manner in which mobility practices and experiences within or against complex, transnational configurations of political, economic and socio-cultural relations that manage and control the (im)mobility of individuals and groups – what Glick Schiller and Salazar (2014) term regimes of mobility – in turn fashion people’s perceptions of movement and the social relationships they involve: how are people’s senses of belonging formed? In what ways do people mould and live connections through time and across localities, and what are enduring experiential and material interconnections composed of? ← 3 | 4 →

Anthropology and the question of mobility

In the discipline of anthropology, processes of social and cultural continuity and change have often been discussed in contexts of spatial movements, usually understood in terms of migration; either as labour migration (Mitchell 1956, Pottier 1988, Ferguson 1990a and b) or forced migration and refugeeism (Bascom 1998, Indra 1999, Black and Koser 1999). Moreover, studies of nomadic communities, in particular, have provided rich ethnographic material underlining how mobility becomes constitutive for society (e.g. Bohannan 1954, Lienhardt 1961 and 1966, Evans-Prichard 1969 and 1951). The analysis of the ethnographies were, however, fashioned according to the theoretical perspectives on social organization the respective researchers had in mind, and, until recently, there has been a tendency to see mobility more as a sign of societies and social systems in crises, than constitutive processes of society (Larsen 2003). Mobility of people within and between state boundaries, or even across continental boundaries, has mostly been approached by examining the problems created in the wake of movements either with regard to the society people are moving from or the societies they move to. Their movement is then seen as indicative of social and cultural disruption and disorder: ‘acculturation’ or the denial of modernization.

In this volume, the authors would like to avoid such an understanding as, in most cases, a conflation between mobility and disarray would remain intricately entangled in the ideologically constructed nature of the nation-state and its emphasis on closed social and cultural entities associated with territorial boundaries (Daley 2001).

The individual case studies presented here show precisely how mobility and its changing pattern and meaning through time shape the configuration of belonging and identities, which is pivotal to the constitution and reproduction of societies and communities. In the case of Sri Lanka, Fuglerud shows how Tamils settled in Norway situate their life within a context of what he terms ‘transnationalism by proxy’, indicating the limits of mobility and how Tamils recreate transnationalism not necessarily through physical movement, but by means of ideological ← 4 | 5 → commitment and remembrance, kinship networks and new communication technologies. Engebrigtsen’s discussion of Roma as mobile subjects reveals how transnational movement has become almost imperative to the Roma’s habitus; being ‘on the move’ and, perhaps, ‘in-between’ becomes a profound dimension of their identity and livelihood. In fact, it remains significant to their dignity as a de-territorialized community vis-à-vis the societies and state authorities between which they oscillate. Mobility not only produces unprecedented forms of coping strategies, but may also be decisive for certain livelihoods. Simonsen shows how movements of Mambwe-speaking people in Zambia between households in urban and rural areas, as well as within the urban setting, are motivated by socio-economic aspirations. Their access to and movement between households of relatives in pursuit of a better life is facilitated by a culturally shared notion of shared territorial belonging. In contrast, for the Roma discussed by Ada I. Engebrigsten, mobility is interconnected with them being dispossessed of a territorial basis. Thus, mobility for them becomes a tactic for economic and political coping.

In many cases, mobility remains a subsistence strategy. Yet, governments and their policymakers continue to consider sedentarization of transhumance and nomadic populations as a laudable development goal and, hence, as the kind of alternative livelihood that should be adaptable to and desirable for strengthening the vision and the hold of the nation-state (Wilson 1995, Harir 1994, Fratkin 1999, Manger 2001). Settlement and the reorganization of society that follows – of its practices, ideas and relationships – affect not only the system of production but also people’s life-worlds. In Chapter 4, on Ju|’hoansi San of Namibia, Hays and Ninkova discuss how government- and NGO-initiated discourses on socio-economic development presuppose notions of sedentarism and vertical organization of society, while, locally, everything is perceived as more egalitarian and as always being in flux and in motion. It is interesting that in both this study of the nomadic Ju|’hoansi San of Nambia and their entanglement with development policies and Fuglerud’s discussion of how Norwegian migration policies frame the life trajectories of Tamil women and men, it is clearly shown how abstract administrative categories of development, migration and social change fail to capture the complex relationship between ← 5 | 6 → movement and emplacement that a focus on actual practices of mobility bring forward. It seems that the more abstract and ideologically formatted categories of development and migration are still moored in the idea that domestication and sedentarization are the locus of progress – of livelihood security and community formation.

A mobility perspective brings out the dynamics between movement and stasis in terms of coping, as well as, local perceptions of connectivity and belonging. As early as 1992, Malkki questioned the ‘sedentary metaphysics’ inherent in social theory. And, since John Urry’s influential Sociology beyond societies: Mobilities in the 21st century (2000), mobility has been a significant dimension in studies of contemporary social, political and economic processes. More than being an additional dimension in social analysis, a turn to mobility certainly challenges our understanding of society. It also questions the fundamentally territorial and sedentary basis of societies and cultures (Gupta and Ferguson 1992, Hannam, Sheller and Urry 2006). To a certain extent, mobility has become a buzzword for analysing the current global situation, often portrayed in terms of instability, super-diversity and transnational flows. Images of movement in all directions, followed by rapid changes and insecurities, as well as by formations of new stabilities, complete the depiction. Urry’s main argument for discussing what he saw as new forms of sociality and social configurations was to challenge the rather bounded and static concept of society he found in sociological analysis.

With Urry, the mobile aspects of existence became explicit. He suggested that we should see the social as mobility rather than as society. Correspondingly, but on the level of the individual, Nigel Rapport, in the epilogue, universalizes mobility as fundamental to human existence. Rapport points out and discusses how general anthropological perspectives imply that movement is an individual human capacity intrinsic to the sense people make of the self and the world. He offers an alternative angle to the perspective sensitive to the social and historical dimensions characterizing the chapters of the book. The chapters argue how mobility and movement may be consequential for identity configurations and social forms alike. They focus on categories that account for continuities, beyond the immediate perception at different moments in time and space. In the ← 6 | 7 → case of the Norwegian Roma and the Romanian Romanies, Engebrigtsen examines the extent to which mobility is essential to Roma identity – a configuration that produces an opposition between them and the state in public negotiations of interests and claims. Hays and Ninkova centre the significance of understanding the disparities between a nomadic and a sedentary ethos, while Larsen, in her case study from Zanzibar, investigates the formation of multiplex identities in a society historically constituted through migration and adaptation. The cultural imagination of mobility, and the ways in which identity and belonging are configured in relation to mobility, are always relative to various forms of society.

Research following the ‘mobility turn’ has encompassed large-scale movements of people, objects and capital, as well as daily processes at a local level and the interconnections of these movements. Although large-scale movements have been approached in terms of migration for a long time, the concept of ‘migration’, as Urry points out (2000), is too limited to analyse the multi-dimensional aspects of the mobility, and, moreover, too bound up with one-directional and forced movements between bordered nation-states. Arguably, in spite of more or less forced or involuntary movements and transformations of livelihoods being part of the reality of mobility (Salazar and Smart 2012), the concept of ‘mobility’ may easily evoke the notion of freedom to move and the ability to change. While border crossing and migration in general were once seen as deviant exceptions to settled normality, today certain kinds of movement are ‘being promoted as normality, and place attachment as a digression or resistance against globalizing forces’ (Salazar and Smart 2012, ii). In Chapter 1, Fuglerud explores how, in the case of Tamil refugee-migrants to Norway, a transnational orientation towards ‘homeland’ over time has promoted social mobility within Norway. This orientation has produced a horizontal solidarity, anchored in a concept of national identity, rather than through their previous hierarchical caste distinction. The chapter clearly conveys how a perception of global movement has become vital to understanding national rootedness, and shows also how communities and people make sense of their fluctuation between movement and stasis when territorially based. Engebrigtsen’s study of the Roma shows a similar idea of fluctuation, but in the context of Roma groups’ historical and ideological ← 7 | 8 → de-territorialization. The shift towards mobility in understanding and valuing must be understood in relation to the geo-political changes that have taken place: from the nation-state as a normative and empirical reference for governance to the present-day globalized political reality, with the increasing permeability of national borders (Wimmer and Glick Schiller 2002). These transfigurations suggest how various forms of mobility prove essential to an understanding of societies (Clifford 1992), as the term ‘mobility’ itself refers to all kinds of movement, such as pastoralism, nomadism, trade, travel, migration and refugeeism (de Bruijn et al. 2001). A focus on mobility as a normal aspect of life contrasts more hegemonic understandings that emphasize the importance of staying in one(’s) place both with regard to identity formation and socio-cultural continuity. The chapters in this book therefore explore mobility as a characteristic and genuine feature of certain societies, a feature inherent in processes through which social organization and societal continuity become reproduced. For the Mambwe in Zambia, discussed by Simonsen (Chapter 6), rootedness in the land seems crucial for their shared identity, which in turn facilitates their spatial movement between kin in search of social mobility in places away from their land. At the same time, their reciprocal movement between kin-based households is precisely what reproduces their particular form of social organization and diversified subsistence strategy. Hence, the propensity for mobility is, in certain ethnographic contexts, crucial for the reproduction of a particular form of social organization, involving both those who move and the accommodating communities.


VIII, 228
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
Social anthropology Mobility Belonging
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2018. VIII, 228 pp.

Biographical notes

Jan Simonsen (Volume editor) Kjersti Larsen (Volume editor) Ada Engebrigtsen (Volume editor)

Jan Ketil Simonsen is an Associate Professor at the Department of Social Anthropology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He is the co-editor of the Norwegian Journal of Anthropology. He has done extensive field research in Zambia, and his research interests include migration, kinship, ritual studies, childhood studies, and visual anthropology. Kjersti Larsen holds a PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Oslo, Norway. She is Professor at the Department of Ethnography, Numismatics and Classical Archaeology, Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo. She conducts research in and has published extensively on Muslim societies in East Africa, in particular on the Swahili Coast, East Africa and in the Bayoda desert, Northern Sudan. Ada I. Engebrigtsen is a Research Professor at Norwegian Social Research, Centre for Welfare and Labour Research, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences. Her main research topics are minorities, interethnic relations, mobility, Roma issues, family and children. She has published extensively on all these issues in both Norwegian and English.


Title: Movement and Connectivity