Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice

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Thinking on Buses…

Today I am travelling*. This isn’t unusual, I normally travel to the mainland about once a month. This time, as always, I have taken an academic text-book to read and some academic papers. And I was thinking on the bus (after the plane) how much I enjoy this reading-on-the-go, and strangely find it actually so much more productive, as days reading go, than being sat in my office. That’s when I remembered a paper by Finn and Holton that I’ve recently read about the experience of commuting students and their experiences of mobility to/ from university. Holton and Finn’s paper makes really interesting reading in terms of challenging the binaries in Higher Education discourse about ‘mobile’ (i.e. those who’ve moved for university) and ‘immobile’ (local) students. Instead they show that “local” students also experience mobility (through their experience of commuting) and also how this transitional commuting space is not simply ‘dead time’ but a productive space “work[ing] towards, rather than, against the process of knowledge production, identity formation and feelings of belonging” (2017:13).

Now, thinking about Holton and Finn, I was thinking about my everyday mobilities – I don’t strictly ‘commute’ to mainland Scotland (my office base is in Orkney), but I am mobile, very mobile, across the wider region as a result of my work. And rather than ‘lost’ time, my travel time is valuable. It is particularly valuable for ‘thinking’ work, so it struck me as totally logical that students who are commuting to university might also find travel time useful for some of their higher education studies – their ‘thinking work’. However, unlike the students in Holton and Finn’s study, I’m not commuting to a place of study, so this suggests for me that rather than being a function of where I am moving to when I’m travelling, there is an intrinsic value of travelling in terms of thinking space.

pixabay bus

How does the experience of travelling impact on us? (picture courtesy of

Continuing on my bus journey about one minute later I then remembered a tweet I’d seen from Robert MacFarlane on his phrase of the day ‘“solvitur ambulando” – ‘it is solved by walking’ (Latin). Diogenes, then St Augustine, Thoreau & Chatwin, inter alia.’ I liked the concept of a ‘problem solved by walking’ and wrote the quote down at the time. I have always found walking helpful for sorting out problems, but probably had thought about this more from the perspective of the fresh air and the exercise rather than anything else. But what occurred to me today is that it is clearly also about the experience of movement. Simply moving through space does something interesting to the way that I think….

At this point I started to wonder Lefebvre’s concept of ‘rhythmanalysis’, and the way that the rhythms of urban space can impact on people’s experiences… but I really don’t know enough about his ideas to know if there’s a link there or not!

Now I’m off the bus and writing this all down I realise this blog itself mirrors something of my ‘travelling’ thought processes – it’s a bit of a flow through a whole series of semi-connected thoughts, with lots of scope for further ‘wonderings’ (wanderings). I guess if I was to try to summarise I would say that my concept of mobility and what it means has maybe been challenged and broadened – it is not just about functionalist movement through space to get somewhere, but the very act of movement impacts on us. I know that Finn and Holton will have a great deal more to say to me on this topic, here’s another quote from their paper which I think sums up some of where I have got to on the topic:

“Indeed, mobilities theory allows us to appreciate mobility as much more than the physical act of moving between places and spaces; it is multi-sensory and embodied so that it becomes ‘something we feel in an emotional and affective sense’ (Adey 2010, 162).” (Finn and Holton, 2017 p.3)

So, I’ve now added a number of new pieces of literature to my ‘to read’ pile from mobilities theory, Finn and Holton, and Lefebvre’s ‘Rhythmanalysis: Space, Time and Everyday Life’ too. If anyone else has ideas of other things I should read let me know! That should keep me busy for at least the next couple of journeys!


*This is a touch of poetic licence, I’m not actually travelling today, but when I wrote the blog I was…!


Mark Holton & Kirsty Finn (2017): Being-in-motion: the everyday (gendered  and classed) embodied mobilities for UK university students who commute, Mobilities, DOI:10.1080/17450101.2017.1331018




International vs Internal Student Mobilities

One of my colleagues at the University of the Highlands and Islands, Dr Philomena De Lima is doing some work at the moment to bring together scholarship on international migration and internal migration. Thinking about her work, I read the paper “Internal and International Migration: Bridging the Theoretical Divide”  (King, Skeldon and Vullnetari, 2008). Now, in my PhD I think about internal migration the whole time – how students and graduates move from their island locations, mostly to the Scottish Mainland. Most of my reading has been about internal migration and rural-urban migration specifically. Sometimes in conversations with others I am asked about how my work fits with current international interests in migration (say, for example, when I was last in Greece and the refugee crisis there was very visible). However I haven’t really thought a great deal about it, as most of the research into international migration doesn’t seem that relevant to me. I guess in many ways I have been stuck on the ‘internal’ side of the migration divide!


Refugee camp at Mytilini, Lesvos Island where I was at a conference last year (photo courtesy of Pixabay)

Reading King et al’s paper was very interesting though, because they highlight how the traditions of researching international and internal migration have indeed been quite separate (it’s not just me who has focused on one and not the other…). In their paper they suggest that we should be ‘bridging the theoretical divide’- partly to address the imbalance in scholarship (most scholarship is on the topic of international migration, but most migration is internal) and also because the boundaries between internal and international migration in practice can be very blurred. In particular they discuss the systems approach to migration as being a possible paradigm that can encompass both internal and international migration. Reading their paper has inspired me to not think so narrowly about migration but to consider how international and internal migration might be part of the same spectrum. In fact when reading their paper I was struck by reflecting on how often international migration came up in my interviews with participants as a future possibility (and an actual lived experience in a couple of cases).

What it also got me thinking about is practical implications from my research. So within the UK higher education setting a key emphasis in recent years in terms of graduate employment has been on internationalisation of students and graduates to enable them to access a global workplace (Diamond et al, 2011). However what has received a great deal less attention are issues around internal mobility of students and graduates. My research is showing that this is an important issue for students especially given that graduate jobs are not equally geographically distributed, with a strong centralisation in city regions, and in the UK particularly the South East (Ball, 2012).

What occurs to me is that perhaps universities and higher education policy has been particularly focused on international mobility without necessarily seeing a link to internal mobility. But, I would suggest, perhaps these two could be thought of as part of the same spectrum? And if universities are serious about increasing graduate choice, and increasing graduate access to employment then consideration should be given to internal mobility as well as international mobility.

It would be really interesting to explore further some of the approaches to internationalisation within Higher Education (not an area of specialism for me) and to identify whether similar approaches could be used in terms of internal mobility of students. Considering the mobilities of students generally (internal and international) may be beneficial for students and graduates from very rural and remote communities, but equally given increasing trends for students to study from home, mobility more generally may be an important issue for students all over the country.


Ball, C. (2012) ‘Regional Overview of Graduate Employment’, in HECSU, What do Graduates Do? Manchester; HECSU p.4

Diamond, Walkley, Forbes, Hughes and Sheen (2011) ‘Global Graduates: Global Graduates into Global Leaders’ Association of Graduate Recuiters

King, Skeldon and Vullnetari (2008) “Internal and International Migration: Bridging the Theoretical Divide”