Call for Papers: Foucault and Mobilities

Together with Katharina Manderscheid and David Tyfield I am organising a two-day symposium on Foucauldian thought and mobilities research and we are currently solliciting abstracts (until 10th June). Here’s the call for papers — Do get in touch if you would like to participate!

Call for Papers : Foucault and Mobilities Research

A Two-Day Symposium, 6th and 7th of January 2013, Lucerne, Switzerland

The publication in English and in German of Michel Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France in the years 1970-1984 has been a key driver of the recent renaissance of research inspired by his work across the social sciences. As part of this, sociologists, geographers and others in the academic world have begun to draw on and work with a wider range of Foucauldian concepts than in earlier studies. Foucault’s thinking on power/knowledge, panopticism, discourse, the role of the sciences, and so on still resonates strongly across the social sciences but it is the topics that he lectured on at the Collège that arguably attract the bulk of attention: a surge of interest has occurred among social scientists in his writings on apparatuses/dispositifs, governmentality, self-government and ethics to name but a few concepts. The translation of the lectures into German and English has also brought to the fore a greater focus on the liveliness of the world, the non-discursive realm, materiality and resistance than Foucault is usually credited for. In fact, and as Philo (2012) has noted, the lectures show more than his published books that Foucault was closer to Deleuze than is often assumed.

Foucault’s work has been employed and embraced enthusiastically by ‘mobilities’ scholars (e.g. Adey, 2009; A. Jensen, 2011; Merriman, 2007; Paterson, 2008, Richardson and Jensen, 2008; Schwanen et al, 2011; Manderscheid, 2012). It can nonetheless be argued that mobilities researchers have not yet fully explored or exhausted the potential of Foucault’s philosophy for understanding mobilities. Against this background we seek to bring together scholars from across the social sciences with a shared interest in both mobilities and Foucauldian thinking. Mobilities are here understood broadly as the flows (or lack thereof) of people, artefacts, money, ideas, practices, and so on across a wide variety of spatial and temporal scales, both in contemporary societies or in the past. More specifically, we are soliciting conceptual and/or empirical papers that address one or several of the following topics or a related theme:

• The governmentalities that shape mobilities

• The government of im/mobile others and selves

• Mobility dispositifs

• Mobile subjectivities

• Formation and contestation of material landscapes of mobilities

• Ethics of mobility and mobile ethics

• Discourses surrounding and underpinning mobilities

• Mobilities as an object of knowledge

• The ‘disciplining’ of mobilities

• Techniques of im/mobility and im/mobile techniques

• Conceptualisation of mobilities in regards to biopolitics and territory

The two-day symposium aims at connecting scholars from different disciplines with an interest in this range of topics. If you are interested in participating in this event with a paper, we ask that you prepare an abstract of no more than 250 words and send this to one of the organisers no later than 10th June 2012.

Katharina Manderscheid, Lucerne University, Tim Schwanen, University of Oxford, and David Tyfield, Lancaster University.


Independence in later life

In ths post I would like to plug an article on independence in later life by David Banister, Ann Bowling and myself that has recently been published in the ‘in press’ section of the journal Geoforum. In this article we interrogate independence — what it means to community dwelling older people and how they practice it.

The paper starts with a review of the conceptualisations of independence in the academic literature. We juxtapose individualist-liberal understandings that circulate through the medical realm and/or are inspired by the thinking of Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill with non-modernist understandings in post-structuralist social theory. We then continue with an analysis of in-depth interviews with people aged 70 and over from across England (and Scotland).

The paper argues that independence is much more than not being dependent on others — next of kin, friends, neighbours, and so forth. But what exactly its meanings are, is difficult to ascertain. For these are fuzzy, fluid and shifting, and cannot be pinpointed or arrested through language. It is therefore important to also consider how independence is ‘done’, how it is practised. To this end, we draw on actor-network theory (among others) and argue that independence is an unstable outcome of attachments to, and dependencies on, bodies, technologies, infrastructures and so forth. The upshot of this is that dependence is primordial to independence: without dependencies no independence.

This has political import: It puts the positioning of independence in later life as natural or a necessary ingredient of successful or healthy ageing in a different light, and helps in resisting the widespread tendency of considering forms of dependency in later life as undesirable. Our point is of course not to celebrate dependencies as such. That would amount to making the same mistake as the naïve positioning of independence in later life as inherently good and desirable. That would also mean treating all dependencies as equal and being oblivious to the complex power asymmetries that mediate (and are constituted by) dependencies. The point is rather to criticise understandings of dependency in later life in terms of passivity, burden and undesirability — understandings that work to disadvantage older people (and others) who cannot act and behave in line with the (socially produced) ideal of independence.

In the paper we illustrate and elaborate our arguments with reference to everyday mobility — i.e. trips to places outside the house. We also elaborate an alternative conceptualisation of independence and independent mobility that, we feel, does more justice to the myriad dependencies that make possible independence and autonomy in relation to movement through space.

Further conceptual and empirical work remains to be done with regard to independence in later life, both in relation to out-of-home mobility and with regard to other domains of everyday life. I hope, however, that this paper helps people to use the term independence with more care and circumspection.