Mobilities and Social Justice

MMB aims to expand and challenge understandings of migration and to make connections between different types of mobilities, beyond the human and across time. This approach enables us to uncover connections between different structures, processes and experiences of justice and injustice to contribute to a more just world.  

Movement is fundamental to life, yet ‘migration’ is consistently focussed on as a global problem. Connecting mobility and migration helps us rethink and reframe the latter. It demands that we ask, whose movement counts as ‘migration’ and why? It foregrounds the challenge of ’ ‘methodological nationalism’. Methodological nationalism equates ‘society’ with the nation state, imagining it as a container of social and economic processes. It also naturalises international borders rather than seeing how they reflect and create structural injustices. This has theoretical, practical and political consequences. Justice is often based on assumptions of citizenship/membership. Unless we attend to the position of the non-citizen, whatever field of justice we are engaging with – health, education, social assistance – will always fall short. An international approach that does not recognise national boundaries as productive of injustice will miss a key mechanism of injustice that is deep rooted in histories of colonialism and racism.

Access to mobility is highly uneven and unjustly distributed. This is not only across borders but also within states: the movement of people who are disabled is often highly constrained as a result of built environments, infrastructure and other transportation systems:  mobility of negatively racialised people, people who beg, sex workers, queer and other marginalised people is often subject to surveillance or social control. Mimi Sheller has conceptualised how power and inequality inform the governance and control of movement, shaping the patterns of unequal mobility and immobility in the circulation of people, resources, and information as ‘mobility justice’. Importantly, it is not only people who move. So too do animals, plants, ideas, finance, goods etc. Mobility is central to (re)distribution.

MMB is well placed to promote an understanding of the implications of (methodological) nationalism for its work on social justice, and we aspire to offer theoretical and practical responses to the challenges this poses.

Mobilities and social justice research project highlights:

  • ETHOS – Towards an empirically informed European theory of justice. Bridget Anderson led research on the ways that mobility challenges liberal ideas and practices of justice as redistribution, recognition and representation, and what alternatives open up when mobility is centralised.
  • Truth on the Margins: Bringing memories to support transnational justice in Colombia – a collaboration between the University of Bristol, the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and several organizations working in some of Colombia’s most marginalized municipalities, researchers have been working to document the experience of people who were exiled from the country during the armed conflict. Led by Prof. Matthew Brown, Portuguese and Latin American Studies, Dr Julia Paulson, School of Education, and Dr Goya Wilson Vasquez, Portuguese and Latin American Studies.
  • Modern Marronage: The Pursuit and Practice of Freedom in the Contemporary World – This five-year ERC-funded project is concerned with the continuing significance of Atlantic World history, but also upturning conventional discourse by interrogating the problem of freedom – as opposed to slavery – in the contemporary world. It therefore takes ‘marronage’ as its starting point. Dictionary definitions of ‘marronage’ describe it as the process of extricating oneself from slavery and connect it to the histories of enslaved people who ran away and formed ‘maroon’ or ‘quilombo’ communities in the Americas. However, as political theorist Neil Roberts has argued, ‘marronage’ can also be more broadly understood as action from slavery and toward freedom, and we approach marronage as a concept that can encompass many different ways in which enslaved people sought to practice freedom. Led by Professor Julia O’Connell Davidson, and Dr Angelo Martins Junior, SPAIS.

Recent mobilities and social justice blogs: