Drexel University
United States of America

Mimi Sheller is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy, Drexel University. She is founding co-editor of Mobilities; Associate Editor of Transfers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies; Executive Committee of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility (T2M); Scientific Board of the Mobile Lives Forum, SNCF, France. She is author of Democracy After Slavery (Macmillan 2000); Consuming the Caribbean; Citizenship from Below, and co-editor with John Urry of Mobile Technologies of the City, Tourism Mobilities, and special issue of EPA: ‘Materialities and Mobilities.’

Mobility Capability: Theorizing Social Justice as a Counter-Geography of Movement

All forms of mobility are ‘differentiated’ and unevenly enacted in processes imbued with social, cultural, economic, political and geographical power. Encompassing the freedom to move, the right to stay in place or remain, freedom from coerced movement, and access to the potential for mobility is sometimes theorized as ‘motility.’ The range of rights surrounding forms of human mobility are spatially grounded and unequally distributed. In this paper I argue that ensuring mobility justice will entail moving beyond a politics of the de jure human right to mobility (which is enshrined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights, yet generally ignored), to instead ensuring that the de facto capability of mobility is protected and extended as a common basis for social justice. New understandings of (im)mobilities must address the ethics of differentiated mobility, the mechanisms that foster and impede mobility rights, and the ways in which the militarization of borders, travel, aerial mobility, and the right to the city has reduced the flourishing of mobility capabilities both globally and locally. At the same time, we need further study of the ways in which people circumvent or short-circuit mobility regimes (such as escaping detection, sending remittances, smuggling goods, using the internet to build transnational connections, or using mobile phone connectivity to facilitate local networking and movement). Only with awareness of the injustices of dominant mobility regimes will people be in a position to challenge them with what geographer Steven Graham calls ‘counter-geographies’ that might put technologies of mobility and communication in the service of anti-military interventions and alternative spatio-temporal formations beyond the imaginary of the state.