About the Multiple Mobilities Research Cluster
The past several years have witnessed controversy and intense debate around borders and the policing of mobility on a new scale. A range of border walls, fences and ‘virtual’ walls have been erected in South America, the Middle East, and South and Southeast Asia. Across the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe, walls have appeared in response to the “refugee crisis” and the conflict in Ukraine. The United States-Mexico border continues to be a flash point in hemispheric politics, especially with the election of Donald Trump.
The group’s interdisciplinary research collaboration takes on the study of borders and mobility from a new perspective. Taking the US-Mexico border as a primary case study (though not the only one), we attend not only to the plights of migrants that cross the border and the security technologies that are built to stop them, but also to all that moves with, through, and around border infrastructures. We consider the movement and restriction of endangered animals, border patrol agents, activists, workers, engineers, policies, industries, narcotics, agricultural products, trafficked animal parts, deer ticks, images, and Vietnam War era materiel, among other things. We have found that these various circuits of mobility and immobility inevitably influence one another in ways that have been under-emphasized. The interconnected dynamics of what we call “multiple mobilities” therefore require deliberate study from a multi-modal and inter-disciplinary approach.
The Multiple Mobilities working group proposes new ways to depict and understand these complexities, and to examine the situated and contingent modes and events that create the ecology of the border and the effect of bordering. Based on ongoing collaborative research involving successive intensive fieldwork trips we have focused in on four central conceptual approaches that cut into our themes at different angles: spatiality, materiality, regulation, and phenomenology.
Spatiality: Contrary to many who think of the border as a line, or even a zone, the Multiple Mobilities Research Cluster looks at the many “in-between,” indeterminate, or interstitial spaces that are not accounted for in current political or scholarly conceptions of the border. We explore the nature of these spaces, which clearly influence border politics, even as they remain unaccounted for in official political discussions. Examples of these spaces are “corridors” for animals and “flyways” for birds. The work done to protect or enclose corridors and flyways and the attendant types of movement they address clearly shapes the nature of the border and the border wall. Our research is deeply interested in the ways that mobility of humans and non-humans meet in these discussions and policies about passageways, channels, corridors, airspace, and the “underground,” and the socio-spatial implications of those interactions.
Materiality: It is difficult not to take the materiality of the border fence seriously when confronted by it up close, as well as its multiple incarnations and range of form. Sometimes it seems like a regular garden fence; other times, it imposes itself as a prison-like fortress. The materiality of this “tactical infrastructure” has been negotiated by many actors: private property owners, universities, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the bi-national International Boundary and Water Commission, NGO activists, local and state courts, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Some have argued for different aesthetics of the wall, and others for different materials, shapes and gaps. The Multiple Mobilities working group examines how the fence was designed and built, as well as how its form and reach are still being negotiated at various scales.
Regulation: The Multiple Mobilities Research Cluster is centrally concerned with how the border zone is regulated, in the broadest sense. Regulation includes the practices and policies of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but also encompasses the work of those who challenge them directly—such as activists and NGOs, the legal debates, and the everyday regulation and management of those who aren’t easily controlled by the state, especially. those who are not considered sovereign subjects: undocumented migrants, but also plants, viruses, deer ticks, data, not to mention goods, money, and intellectual property. In addition, the development of the “smart border” via bio-informatic security and remote surveillance is an important component of the new ecology of the border, one that require that we consider the designers, software developers and engineers of these barrier technologies.
Phenomenology: The Multiple Mobilities Research Cluster brings a phenomenological approach to the study of the border, to think about what it feels like to live at or around the border. We aim to understand how the border fence and the “border effect” are experienced on a day-to-day basis; how the border is embodied normatively, or how and when its regulations become embodied norms, and by what practices. How is the world of mobility, with its flows and fluxes and transience, ordered and experienced? Our research is attentive to gestures and different sensory phenomena, including sound, smell and sight, all of which vary based on position and identity. Much is illuminated by the specifics of understanding what it feel like to constantly hear the shipbreaking of large warships; to drive in a border zone punctuated by checkpoints and electronic gates; for one’s children to play in a backyard sliced by the shadows of the fence. Our approach seeks to understand how the border is resisted via the body and the sensorium, and how these bodily practices interact with new extra-sensory technologies.
Victoria Hattam is Professor of Politics at New School for Social Research working on the political economy of the US and Mexico border and on Design + Production in the Global Economy. In 2018-19, Hattam will be co-directing a Mellon Foundation funded Sawyer Seminar on Imagined Mobilities with Miriam Ticktin, Anthony Dunne, Fiona Raby, and Alex Aleinikoff. For recent published work from these projects, see “Imperial Designs: Remembering Vietnam at the US-Mexico Border Wall,” Memory Studies 9,1 (2016): 27-47; and “The Whiteness of Capital,” Journal for Cultural Research 22, 2 (2018); 180-85; and “Political Loved Ones,” WSQ 45, 3/4 (Fall/Winter 2017): 174-5. More of her work can be found here.
Laura Y. Liu is Associate Professor of Global Studies & Geography at The New School. Her research focuses on community organizing, labor, migration, urban development, and design. She has written on the connection between geography and industry; the influence of digital technologies on urban space; and the impact of September 11 on Chinatown. Her articles have appeared in Urban Geography; Gender, Place, and Culture; and Social and Cultural Geography. She is writing a book, Sweatshop City, which looks at the continuing relevance of the sweatshop in New York City and other post-Fordist, globalized contexts.
Radhika Subramaniam is a curator, editor and writer with an interdisciplinary practice that deploys such platforms as exhibitions, books and public art interventions as conscious forms of knowledge-making. She is interested in the poetics and politics of crises and surprises, particularly urban crowds, cultures of catastrophe and human-animal relationships. She is Associate Professor of Visual Culture at Parsons School of Design where she was also the first Director/Chief Curator of the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center. Her current project is a work of narrative nonfiction tentatively titled The Elephant’s I.
Miriam Ticktin is Associate Professor of Anthropology at The New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College. Her work explores the category of humanity, and the politics of who and what it includes and excludes. She is the author of Casualties of Care: Immigration and the Politics of Immigration and Humanitarianism in France (UC Press, 2011), co-editor of In the Name of Humanity: the Government of Threat and Care (with Ilana Feldman, Duke UP 2010), and a founding co-editor of the journal Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism and Development. You can see more of her work HERE.
Rafi Youatt is Associate Professor of Politics at The New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College and chair of undergraduate Environmental Studies. His work explores the multiple ways that politics works across, through, and in spite of species differences. His first book, Counting Species examined the politics of global biodiversity and the changing modes of environmental governance that have worked in its name. His current project explores the intersection of interspecies relations and international relations in American borderlands. Some of his published work can be found HERE.
Abou Farmaian is interested in secularization processes, especially in relation to technology and aesthetics. His ethnographic research has focused on technoscientific projects in the US attempting to achieve physical immortality. He is working on a book, Secular Immortal, examining three such ‘immortalist’ strategies: cryonics, biogerontology and artificial intelligence. His first book was Clerks of the Passage, an extended essay on movement and immigration. He has taught Anthropology at Bard College, SUNY Purchase, Hunter College and Princeton. As part of the artist duo caraballo-farman he has exhibited internationally, including at the Tate Modern, London, and PS1, NY, and received several grants and awards, including Guggenheim and New York Foundation for the Arts fellowships.