Understanding Mobilities in a Dangerous World

in Transfers
Gail Adams-Hutcheson University of Waikato

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Holly Thorpe University of Waikato

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Catharine Coleborne University of Newcastle

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The mobilities framework offers a particularly informative and potent paradigm through which to draw together interdisciplinary scholarship about the present world. In this introduction—and indeed, derived from a symposia on mobilities in a dangerous world—we explore the dynamics of contemporary mobilities through a critical focus on “dangerous” spaces and places. We discuss the potential of a sustained dialogue between mobilities studies and our focus on risk, adversity, and perceptions of danger. Although disasters link to four of the articles, ideas are expanded to draw on the multiple scales of risk and danger in everyday life within and across an array of international contexts. In this special issue, dynamic mobilities are facilitated by ships, skate-boards, buildings, art, and cities; they are also encountered in darkness, in light, and through bodies as well as physical and imagined movements.

We currently live in a “dangerous” world. Natural disasters, wars, and acts of terrorism are killing, injuring, and displacing millions each year. In the context of digital and social media proliferation, news of such events spreads across the world within seconds, affecting and implicating us all. Such natural and human-induced disasters and tragedies impact the lives of many, but particularly the more vulnerable within our societies. For example, ongoing war, conflict, and genocide have caused millions of refugees to travel long distances in search of a safe place to call “home.” The Syrian refugee crisis in particular has ignited the fear of the figure of the refugee and the impact of their mobilities on host nations.1

Politically, now is also considered a dangerous time to travel overseas for some identities. The United States of America is framing Muslim bodies/ identities as embodying danger, and therefore they must be constrained or restricted in their mobility. US President Donald Trump signals dangerous times for non-Western peoples. Fear of illicit mobilities and their intendant security risks increasingly determine logics of governmentality—and tracing (surveillance) of risky identities. Thus, there is currently a strong global focus on the contemporary world and its real and imagined dangers. Border breaches, boundary maintenance, and security fears haunt contemporary governments, in their race to secure nation-states.

But, of course, our own time is not the first to be transfixed with the prospect of so-called dangerous mobilities.2 Nor is it a new claim to make, when studying mobilities, that we live in a dangerous world. Mobilities scholars have thought about, studied, and refracted human movement and motility through varying forms of “dangerous” situations, such as war, tsunamis, diseases, train crashes, global warming, and global terrorism.3 The very “politics of mobility,” as Tim Cresswell suggests, demands that we pay attention to unequal relations of power, and these are amplified when danger is present.4

In an age of mobile media communications, imagined and digital mobilities also encourage us to pay attention to the more mundane and smaller-scale situations that could, at any given moment, become “dangerous,” such as road and air travel, extreme weather, sporting and physical movement, and so on. Experimentation and danger, possibility and risk jostle uneasily in the making of mobile lives. Especially in “fast-lane” mobile lives and mobility systems, the proliferation of novelty and peril looms large.5

In formulating this issue of Transfers, we were drawn to this theme precisely because the contemporary world and its real and imagined “dangers” offers mobilities scholars a variety of challenging ideas and spaces to traverse. Sustainable mobilities, climate change and human mobility, mobility justice, historical mobilities in new perspectives, the mobilities of disease and war, and mobilities and the borders of the nation-state are just a few. At the conceptual level, too, theorists in this field have reimagined “danger” as the risk and threat that mobility itself might pose in the contemporary world, such as climate change refugees, or pandemic disease transmission via people and movement, among other aspects of the perceived dangers in our shared mobile world.

Using the lens of a “dangerous world” to incorporate some of these rich and provocative themes in the mobilities paradigm across disciplines, this issue draws together a tight framing of multiscaled mobilities within a world filled with perceived and real risks. We remain focused on the ways in which bodies and things/objects move, and we achieve this through examining the meanings ascribed to these movements through cultural, political, and aesthetic framings. In six articles, our authors consider the powerful relationships forged between the theory and practice of lived mobilities in both everyday and extraordinary life. The articles take as their focused subjects of inquiry the topics of dangerous places and spaces, and the imagined, physical, digital, and creative mobilities of different groups (such as children, youth, and homeless) under duress. In so doing, the authors draw on the interdisciplinary strengths of sociocultural geography, sociology, sports studies, and aid and development studies and practices to critically rethink mobilities in a “dangerous world.”

Thinking about mobilities at different scales, spaces, and places within a “dangerous world,” Steve Matthewman’s article, “Mobile Disasters: Catastrophes in the Age of Manufactured Uncertainty,” offers a macro view when he considers how disasters themselves are highly mobile. Homing in on twenty-first-century disasters, he is able to provocatively portray how initially localized disasters are able to spread and impact on a global scale. Matthewman points to a global acceleration of disasters locking environment and humanity into a possible final showdown. Following on, Gail Adams-Hutcheson, in “Embodied Vibrations: Disastrous Mobilities in Relocation from the Christ-church Earthquakes, Aotearoa New Zealand,” moves the conversation from the macro to the micro when she considers that material affects are able to entangle the earth, forces, and embodiment. She incorporates the vibrant matter of buildings, which have been transformed by earthquakes, to focus discussion on vibration sensitivity. Earthquakes, and the buildings they affect, are able to “live on,” stretching conceptualizations of boundedness and temporality. Delving into the fascinating and wild spaces and places of oceans in “Nighttime Navigating: Moving a Container Ship through Darkness,” Maria Borovnik examines how nighttime and darkness enfold further risk into shipping spaces, and she argues that darkness is a strange companion to seafarers. Tiredness and darkness add layers of risk and emotion to an already hazardous occupation—that is, darkness can quickly accelerate dangers, sometimes with catastrophic consequences, in a highly mobile shipping existence.

The final three articles in this issue offer rich insights in the affects of natural disasters, war, and urban development on the mobilities of local people. In so doing, each of these articles contributes to our understandings of the micromobilities of different groups—youth, children, homeless—in contexts of fear, risk, and marginalization. The first two articles focus on the local, lived experiences of children and youth in contexts where their mobilities are highly constrained and their voices rarely prioritized, and thus unique forms of agency and embodied knowledge are revealed. In an effort to move beyond “victim” narratives, Holly Thorpe, in “Youth and Alternative Sporting (Im) mobilities in Disrupted and Conflicted Spaces,” examines how some youth in post-earthquakes Christchurch (New Zealand) and conflict-torn Afghanistan and Gaza are creatively developing an array of strategies and sporting initiatives to help improve their own and others’ health and well-being. In the context of a flood-affected community in the United Kingdom, Alison Lloyd Williams, Amanda Bingley, Marion Walker, Maggie Mort, and Virginia Howells, in “‘That’s Where I First Saw the Water’: Mobilizing Children’s Voices in UK Flood Risk Management,” then vividly illustrate the value of an action-based methodology. Lloyd Williams and colleagues situate children as “flood actors” and thus focus on their affective experiences of the floods, as well as their embodied and sensual knowledge of such events. In the final article, “City Sterilization and Poverty Management: Examining a Mobility Hub in the ‘Redevelopment and Enhancement’ of Downtown Tallahassee,” Christopher McLeod, Matthew Horner, Matthew Hawzen, and Mark DiDonato explore how consumer and homeless mobilities are constructed, abjected, and impacted by redevelopment in Tallahassee, Florida. Utilizing the concepts of mobility hub and mobility system, they highlight important contradictions in regimes of poverty management. Finally, Mimi Sheller draws this special section to a close with a commentary that further contextualizes it within this unique historical moment.

The articles in this issue constitute a strong published outcome of the sixth Mobilities Network Symposium hosted at the University of Waikato in June 2015 on behalf of the eSocSci Mobilities Research Network.6 Four of the six articles originated at this symposium, which had the same theme as this issue. Building on and extending themes from the symposium, the various articles in this issue offer original theoretical and methodological contributions toward understanding the physical, imagined, constrained, and highly political flows of people, knowledge, and objects within and across increasingly connected yet simultaneously “at-risk” societies. Furthermore, our approach across these contributions is unique in that there is an international, as well as local, focus on mobilities in a “dangerous world” from scholars working mainly in Aotearoa New Zealand but also in England and the United States.

The conference team comprised Catharine Coleborne, Holly Thorpe, and Gail Adams-Hutcheson, with the assistance of postgraduate student Megan Smith. We express our warm thanks to all the conference participants and to our keynote speakers, including Mimi Sheller, Carol Farbotko, and Holly Thorpe. We are also grateful to Gijs Mom for supporting the vision of this special issue and helping bring it to fruition. The contributors we include in this issue offer stimulating and creative ways to understand and rethink mobilities in a dangerous world.



Victoria Mason, “The Im/mobilities of Iraqi Refugees in Jordan: Pan-Arabism, ‘Hospitality’ and the Figure of the ‘Refugee,’” Mobilities 6, no. 3 (2011): 353–373, esp. 358–360.


William Walters, “Secure Borders, Safe Haven, Domopolitics,” Citizenship Studies 8, no. 3 (2004): 237–260.


Kevin Hannam, Mimi Sheller, and John Urry, “Editorial: Mobilities, Immobilities and Moorings,” Mobilities 1, no. 1 (2006): 1–22.


Tim Cresswell, “Towards a Politics of Mobility,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28, no. 1 (2010): 17–31.


Anthony Elliott and John Urry, Mobile Lives (London: Routledge, 2010).


eSocSci (Hui Rangahau Tahi) is a New Zealand online platform that connects social scientists and provides space for communities of knowledge. The Mobilities Research Network can be found at mobilities.

Contributor Notes

Gail Adams-Hutcheson is a teaching fellow of geography at the University of Waikato in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her research focuses on the emotional and affective spaces of transient communities in New Zealand. These communities include both postdisaster relocation and rural sharemilkers on the move. Her most recent article, “Spatialising Skin: Pushing the Boundaries of Trauma Geographies,” in Emotion, Space and Society, ties together psychoanalytical geographies with trauma studies. E-mail:

Holly Th orpe is Associate Professor at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Her research on action sports, youth culture, media and new technologies, mobilities, gender, and critical sport for development includes more than sixty journal articles and book chapters. Her books include Transnational Mobilities in Action Sport Cultures (2014), Snowboarding Bodies in Theory and Practice (2011), and the coedited Routledge Handbook of Physical Cultural Studies (2017) and Women in Action Sport Cultures (2016). E-mail:

Catharine Coleborne is Professor and Head of School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle, Australia. In 2015, she held a short Visiting Fellowship at the Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe) at Lancaster University. Her own mobilities research currently focuses on social institutions, mobile settlers in colonial worlds, and the legal and social histories of vagrancy as mobility. E-mail:

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