February 2019

Mobility assemblages



In January 2019, I presented the first conference paper from my on-going research: ‘Working women on the move: genealogies of gendered migrant labour‘ . The paper was part of the conference on New Perspectives in Feminist Labour History: work and activism at the Department of History and Cultures, University of Bologna.


A central theme of my paper was the notion of ‘the mobility assemblage’ as a way to understand and analyse entanglements and intra-actions between global migration, labour activisms and feminist histories. But how do I understand and map mobility assemblages?


‘Historians of migration view human movement as an ordinary, rather than exceptional, dimension of human life and as an almost universal human experience’ Donna Gabaccia has argued. (‘Is everywhere nowhere?’, 1115) Moreover, Stephen Castles has maintained that conflict and forced migration form a continuum that is linked to the social transformations of globalization. (‘Global Perspectives on Forced Migration‘, 7) According to Castles, the distinction between migration as voluntary movement and asylum as coercion does not stand, since migratory movements across the globe have historically been triggered by wars, regional conflicts, national and international politics, as well as local and global economic dynamics. Taking ‘the migration/asylum nexus’ further, Encarnación, Guttiérez Rodríguez has argued that it is intertwined with the coloniality of power and racial capitalism. (‘The Coloniality of migration‘}

It is within such economic, political and colonial assemblages that I chart narratives of uprooted women on the move, as they already emerge in the process of my research. Their stories, I argue continually cross national, geographical, language and conceptual borders, encompassing components of what I chart as ‘the mobility assemblage’. As I have written elsewhere, the notion of the assemblage allows for post-structural understandings of networks of connections that are always in flux, assembling and reassembling in different ways (see ‘Machinic assemblages‘). Assemblages are thus emergent features of relationships and can only function as they connect with other assemblages in a constant process of becoming. Assemblages can be physical, psychological, socio-cultural, as well as philosophical and abstract and they allow for the possibility of complex configurations, continuous connections and intense relations. In this light, some of the components of what I configure as ‘the mobility assemblage’, would be: wars/local conflicts/gender relations/racial capitalism/colonialism/border practices/global trade and as the analysis goes on more component can be added and more internal and external relations can be mapped. Theorised within the framework of the assemblage, mobility emerges as a complex entanglement of some of the components already identified above that make specific connections with other components within the assemblage, but also develop external relations with components of other assemblages: unregulated markets/economic crises/homelessness/culture/ family histories and moral panics, to name but the most startling.

What are the implications of working with assemblage theories then? A central task of the analysis would be to make specific cartographies of situated phenomena and problems, trace the connections they make in order to configure emerging new formations, but also follow their ‘lines of flight’, since for Deleuze and Guattari, who coined the notion of the assemblage, society is not so much defined by its molar formations and their dialectic oppositions but rather by what has escaped them, not the molar socio-cultural entities, but the molecular counter-formations, its ‘lines of flight’. In this light, there can be no clear separation between coercion and voluntary movement, escaping persecution or moving forward in hope for a better life. And although each story is just a singularity, the already significant body of literature on facts and figures of migration and forced displacement across the globe, fully supports and historically contextualizes narrated lived experiences, what François Laruelle calls, ‘le vécu.’ (Introduction to non-marxism)



Please reference as: Tamboukou, Maria. 2019. ‘Working women on the move: genealogies of gendered migrant labour’: paper presented at the Conference on New Perspectives in Feminist Labour History: work and activism, University of Bologna, January 17, 18, 2019.