Conference "Mobility in Crisis: Is Europe becoming more mobile during the economic crisis or is European mobility in crisis?" (29-30 January 2015)

EUI and IMISCOE are jointly organizing an event on "Mobility in Crisis: Is Europe becoming more mobile during the economic crisis or is European mobility in crisis?". This event is to take place on 29-30 January 2015 at the  European University Institute in Florence. Deadline for paper proposals is September 30th. 
There is a general assumption today, partly documented by UN data, that international migration is on the increase, but historical evidence also suggests that geographic mobility was much more pervasive in the past than we imagine. This conference concentrates on the European landscape and critically examines the extent and effects of mobility in Europe: 
-      Is mobility in Europe today qualitatively different from the past?
-      Are European societies today characterised by sedentariness rather than mobility?
-      Who benefits from mobility and under what conditions?
-   Is there an emerging social, cultural and political cleavage between mobile and sedentary populations? 

During the last six years Europe has been going through its worst economic crisis of the postwar period. The crisis has affected different socio-economic strata in varied ways but one thing is certain: The most vulnerable groups, particularly minorities, immigrants, but also youth and those 65+ have been most affected and experience significant hardship in a large number of member states. They face dramatically high unemployment and low income in many EU countries. In addition minorities and migrants are confronted with increasing xenophobia and a declining system of social protection, while their main EU citizenship rights (such as free movement within the EU but also access to welfare services) are often constrained or infringed.

Mobility may foster opportunities for people to improve their employment situation and formation, while it can also give a boost to closer European integration from below. Given the marked regional disparities among member states, there would be also good reason to believe that in conditions of free movement, intra EU mobility of both EU citizens and third country nationals would be a spontaneous reaction to unemployment and might contribute to addressing regional disparities. However, the picture so far is mixed. Mobility has certainly increased from the countries most hit by the crisis to those which are less affected but we are not (yet) witnessing a massive exodus. Some minority groups, particularly the Roma, who were highly disadvantaged also before the crisis, have been quite mobile. Similarly some nationalities (Poles, Lithuanians or Latvians for instance) have emigrated more than others (e.g. Hungarians or Greeks). There are also indications that people with a migration background are more likely to move again.

Having said this, mobility is not a panacea. It involves important social and personal costs and can also be an unsuccessful or painful experience. Our understanding of the main drivers but also of the barriers to mobility in Europe is so far pretty limited. This is partly because the crisis is relatively recent and partly because there has been only limited research on the obstacles and motivations of mobility in Europe.

This conference aims to generate critical debate and new empirical and theoretical knowledge on mobility, or rather mobilities in the European space.

The conference questions the nature of mobility. We prefer to speak of mobilities, in the plural (see also Urry 2007, 2002). Mobility is defined as not necessarily spatial, but also virtual, and subjectively experienced rather than only objectively described (as migration from place A to place B or transition from study to work, or from job A to job B). Our theoretical framework is informed by Anthony Giddens’ analysis of modernity and self-identity (1991), as well as Zygmunt Bauman’s notion of liquid modernity (2000, 2007, 2011) and its critiques (for instance Abrahamson 2004, Atkinson 2008, Lee 2011, Beck and Lau 2005). Understanding the seemingly paradoxical picture of spatial ‘immobility’ of Europeans or even seeming apathy or inability to either angrily ‘voice’ or ‘exit’ (Hirschmann 1970) in the face of increasing hardship and decreasing hope, needs to factor in the in-built uncertainty, the liquidity of late modernity.

Our reading is open-ended: we question whether the limited spatial mobility of citizens and residents of the EU is a symptom of resistance to the neo-liberal transformation of societies and has a potential for re-embeddedness (re-solidification), or whether it is a sign of defeat: in a world that worships ‘travelling light’ as improvement and progress, Europeans are/perceive themselves to be among the settled majority losers, unable to recast themselves as members of the nomadic, extraterritorial elites that Bauman has so poetically analysed.

If the crisis has induced both involuntary mobility and persistent sedentariness, the following questions arise: How is this division articulated in terms of socio-economic inequalities and cultural distinctions between mobile and sedentary populations in Europe? How are these divisions politically mobilized and how are they reinforced or modified through regulatory policies? Is the distinction between free internal movement for EU citizens, on the one hand, and immigration control and integration policies for third country nationals, on the other hand, gradually eroding and being replaced by a deeper division between mobile and sedentary populations?

Building on these reflections, the conference questions how cultural attachments and social networks assume a central role in defining the social experience and are crucial meso-factors that guide decision-making on spatial as well as socio-economic mobility, even in conditions of ‘free movement’ policies within the EU. 

We invite paper proposals on two main thematic foci:
(1) Is Europe mobile or sedentary? Patterns of mobility and diversity in Europe: internal and international, past and present. 
(2) Is there a socio-economic, cultural and political divide between mobile and stable populations in Europe and if so, how is it political articulated?
Please send a 15 line paper abstract, and a short bio note, to by 30 September 2014.

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