2016 – Mobility and social dynamics

The notion of “mobility” is a fruitful one to analyse, but remains a symptom of closed disciplinary boundaries as well as a black box for the social sciences. This is particularly true for South Asia where the dominant Anglo-Saxon terminology enacts an even greater cleavage between fields of study. Nevertheless one cannot dismiss the fact that mobility has become one central research topic in the social sciences. For numerous authors advocating the “Mobility Turn” (Urry 2000; Faist 2013), mobility is a post-disciplinary concept that became an interdisciplinary field of research in the social sciences.

The term “mobility” can be used in two different ways: one is spatial (e.g. migration), the other is social (e.g. upward or downward mobility). These two meanings are not exclusive of each other and can sometimes be fruitfully clubbed together, even if it is an often risky challenge and a rarely travelled path. What role has spatial mobility played in the constitution and upward social mobility of certain population categories? What impact has it had on the replication of the dominant position of some ethno-religious groups, in spite of the profound socioeconomic and political transformations South Asia has undergone over the past century? When these two objects of study are considered together, what stands out is the need to think about the complex relations between spatial and social mobility in the particular context of postcolonial societies that have entered the era of “economic emergence”.

To address first the recent destiny of spatial mobility, one can observe that, since the 1990s, the emergence and consolidation of the fields of diaspora, transnational and globalization studies, have significantly reshaped the conceptual and methodological frameworks of numerous disciplines. Indeed, several major research projects since early 2000s primarily or exclusively focused on figures of spatial mobility (i.e. refugees, low- and high-skilled migrant workers, cross-border migrants, etc.) and their articulations with dimensions of society (economic and political, social integration and exclusion, displacement and dispossession, gender issues, etc.) during the contemporary period. In the context of globalization, with the acceleration of exchanges, circulations and mobility on a global scale, the relations that individuals and groups entertain with the world and geographic space have evolved. Concepts and methods in social sciences had also to adapt to such new regimes of mobility while renewing their tools of analysis so as to better apprehend the new social dynamics at work. New models and paradigms emerged such as mobility systems (Urry 2000), mobile space (Retaillé 2014), regimes of mobility (Schiller and Salazar 2014), without dismissing the validity of older categories such as that of circulation (Breman 1996). In parallel, new methodological tools have been developed, such as multi-sited and mobile ethnography, visual methods, spatial and statistical analysis, mapping technologies, etc.

In the context of South Asian societies, caste, class, structure, stratification and occupational status have been the mainstay of sociological, anthropological and economic research. Research on social mobility in sociology, introduced as early as the 1930’s (Sorokin 1937) in the West, was slow to catch up in South Asia given its specificity. With time, however, social mobility research has gained ground, taking with it the mainstay concepts along with other pertinent issues of the South Asian society, such as the growing interest in understanding the roots of inequality and discrimination. Studies in inequality and social changes have then taken off rapidly in the recent years (Deaton and Dreze 2002), fostered by the development of powerful conceptual and methodological tools, including the implementation and analysis of large-scale survey data, so that social mobility becomes nowadays one of the main areas of research in social sciences.

For this 2016 edition of the Social Sciences Winter School in Pondicherry, we propose to conduct three intensive and disciplinary workshops led by three international teams of scholars. Each of these will propose a different perspective of analysis on mobilities (mainly economics, geography, anthropology, demography) and will focus on specific techniques of investigation, quantitative and/or qualitative. Case studies from India and South Asia but also perspectives from other locations will be presented. Mobility being an interdisciplinary field of research, postgraduates and doctoral students from a variety of disciplinary and institutional backgrounds were selected to join one of the three workshops. This will undoubtedly foster comparative and imaginative thinking about processes of mobility, as well as a reflexive enquiry on methodologies to apprehend their form and extent.

Workshop1 – Documenting Processes of Spatial Mobility: Qualitative and Ethnographic Approaches  

Coordinators: Rémy Delage, Aurélie Varrel

Invited tutors: Tristan Bruslé, M.A. Kalam, Marie Percot

Workshop 2 – Using Survey Data to Understand Social and Geographical Mobility                                       

Coordinator: Christophe Jalil Nordman

Invited tutors: Ashwini Deshpande, Véronique Gille, Abhiroop Mukhopadhyay, Jean-Noël Senne

 Workshop 3 – Social Mobility in its Indian Complexity: Conceptual and Methodological Dynamics       

Coordinator: Thanuja Mummidi

Invited tutors: Venkatesh Athreya, Alexandra De Heering, D.N. Dhanagare, Partha N. Mukherji

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