The Meanings of the Move?

From “Predicaments of Mobility” to “Potentialities in Displacement”

in Conflict and Society
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  • 1 Independent scholar stephen.lubkemann@gmail.com
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ABSTRACT

In this article I draw comparatively on ethnographic material from my work with war-affected populations from postcolonial Mozambique and diasporan Liberia to argue for a fundamental shift in the conceptualization and study of displacement. I argue first for a need to shift from an emphasis on physical mobility as the sine qua non of “displacement,” to an empirical investigation of the less-than-self-evident relationship between physical mobility and social mobility. I illustrate how the meanings and outcomes of physical mobility are far from given but must be treated as an empirical problem, in which the social opportunity structures that cultural agents ultimately navigate are reconfigured in complex, contradictory, and inadvertent ways that simultaneously generate new and socially differentiated challenges as well as opportunities.

Contributor Notes

STEPHEN C. LUBKEMANN is a sociocultural and historical anthropologist whose work focuses primarily on social and political change in nations that have experienced protracted conflict and violence; on migrants, refugees, and diasporas; on international development and humanitarian action; and on cultural heritage and maritime archaeology. He has done extensive fieldwork in Mozambique, in South Africa, and with African refugees and diasporas in Europe and the United States. His ongoing research includes a project initiated in 2004, with research grants from the United States Institute for Peace, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, and the International Development Research Centre, which examines the political and socioeconomic influence of displacement diasporas in their war-torn countries of origin through a specific study of the Liberian case. Since 2006, he has also been engaged in a major project in Angola, supported by the MacArthur Foundation, which examines the effects of “trans-generational displacement” on gendered relations, urbanization, and informal governance systems. In 2007, with United States Institute of Peace and Carter Center funding, he initiated a new policy research project that examines customary legal practices in post-conflict Liberia. His work also critically examines the structure and effects of international humanitarian action and explores the potential of diasporas as a “third humanitarian space.”

Conflict and Society

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