Noel Salazar, January 27th, 2022

In this Rebalance Talk, Andreu Ulied spoke with anthropologist Noel Salazar – known for his research in the anthropologies of mobility and travel, the local-to-global nexus, and discourses and imaginaries of Otherness– on immobility and the structures that facilitate movement and impede others.

Today, the word “mobility” entails so much more than mere physical motion. When Salazar asked his first classes what mobility meant to them, they answered saying there is a positive association and emphasized mobility’s connection to change. They also pointed out the linkage to freedom, people are able to move quite easily. As a broad definition, mobility is how we make movements meaningful.

Salazar attempts to show the scope of the mobility as a concept, “it captures the common impression that our lifeworld is in flux, with not only people, but also cultures, objects, capital, businesses, services, diseases, media, images, information, and ideas circulating across (and even beyond) the planet.”

When we are transported, we are moved around passively by a car, plane, or bus. Many of us tend to “check-out”, burying ourselves in our screens and books. While transportation has many benefits like saving energy, time, and creating comfort – we lose self-propelled movement. Salazar states that we need this motion, “the act of being in motion is important in regards to living things, therefore transportation isn’t very natural.” The COVID19 pandemic helped to further reveal the difference between being moved and doing the moving. The self-propelled movement and the bodily activity in moving around is incredibly important to us. In urban areas, when infrastructure allows, they are making efforts to go back to biking, walking, and other active forms of movements. This active movement exists in leisure and is being incorporated into commutes like in Copenhagen, where 62% of inhabitants’ trips to work or school are by bike. This increase in cycling is thanks to the city’s bicycle infrastructure investment, which breaks down to more than €40 invested per capita.

In this talk Salazar explores the idea of pace and the feeling of disconnect, which is ironic in an age where we have incredible transportation and communication networks. He states that disconnect comes from the idea that the environment is something that is around rather than something we are a part of, it’s the “thinking processes that see humans as something different”.

However, indigenous cultures have had a different world view, one that believes the human is a part of something that is much bigger. It’s not about competition but rather collaboration, and nature only thrives when it collaborates. This seen in basic biology, networks of trees in the rainforest can only thrive on fungi networks. Our western culture is “catching up” to the natural collaboration that has always been around us; Salazar emphasizes the importance of doing so, “Entire relational fields—‘worlds’—are always in motion and subject to reconfigurations. Investigating multi-scalar mobilities is thus central to understanding the complexities of the current global condition.”

When asked about justices and injustices of mobility in terms of belonging and becoming, Salazar reacts against much of the ideology that is behind a lot of mobility thinking, “The problem is mobility is not accessible to everyone. It’s not that everyone wants to be mobile all the time, but many mobilities, like migration, are out of necessity”. Freedom is the choice to be immobile or mobile. The people who have most control of when they want to move and how they want to move are expressing this freedom. However, many people do not have that option and even those who do experience inequalities when moving. What determines these inequalities? Many parameters in society like social class, nationality, religion, gender, etc. We must realize that labels are not mutual, the terms “mobile EU citizen” and “migrant” have two very different connotations. Labels enhance injustices and continue to show privilege. We need to be aware how we label and how we name things because labels are limiting.

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Prof. Dr. Noel B. Salazar is currently Research Professor in Anthropology, Coordinator of the Interculturalism, Migration and Minorities Centre (IMMRC), and Founder of the Cultural Mobilities Research (CuMoRe) cluster at KU Leuven. His research interests include anthropologies of mobility and travel, the local-to-global nexus, discourses and imaginaries of Otherness, heritage and interpretation, cultural brokering, cosmopolitanism, and endurance locomotion. He has won numerous grants for his research projects, including from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the EU Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Research Foundation Flanders (FWO).

Salazar is editor of the Worlds in Motion (Berghahn) book series and of Methodologies of Mobility (2017, Berghahn), Mega-event Mobilities (2016, Routledge), Regimes of Mobility (2014, Routledge) and Tourism Imaginaries (2014, Berghahn), and author of Momentous Mobilities (2018, Berghahn), Envisioning Eden (2010, Berghahn) and numerous peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. 

Learn more about Noel Salazar

Watch the full interview below