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.
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