The secret to getting ahead is getting started.
Contemporary humans are in a constant state of departure – migrants move in search of a new life; travelers move in search of new adventures; settled people dream of or detest moving. The images of mobility are all around us: be they attractive – vacations, cruises, voyages; or threatening – illegal immigrants crossing the border, terrorists blowing up order and life. Mobility is powerful – it cannot be escaped; we are surrounded by its diverse and omnipresent images as a lifestyle, messages, values, policies]. Asked how they imagine Bulgaria in the European Union, my young respondents replied through images of mobility: “I decide to travel, I take the bus and set off”; “friends from brigades, Erasmus, travels.”
Marc Augé characterizes mobility as one of those concepts where the abundance of causes complicates the analysis of results. A number of causes and effects of mobility have been analyzed in larger-scale studies. The purpose of this article is threefold: to analyze the discourses on mobility which situate it within the wide spectrum from freedom to mobility ideology; to articulate the stages in the theorization of mobility while identifying the specific aspects of its Western and East European interpretations; to reconstruct the figures of homo viator. Among the various figures of the mobile individual the emphasis will be on one of the most “pure,” both politicized and poeticized, forms of mobility – the travel, as represented by Homo viator. The genre of the article – a mix of essay and academic paper – introduces the reader to the author’s approach: politics and poetics as a two-dimensional prism through which concepts, policies, and ways are analyzed. The art and craft of analysis find expression in the open methodological prism which includes different research techniques: life stories and a conceptual history of the development of relevant concepts and the formation of conceptual clusters; diachronic analysis both of the “ideology” of mobility and of the phenomenon of mobility, with a synchronic analysis of the figures of Homo viator; discourse analysis of images and imaginaries; sociological analysis of identity re/de/constructions.
Mobility: Freedom and/or Mobility Ideology
We are in 1957. The characters in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a novel that became a beacon for more than one generations, travel the roads of America, work little, if at all, reflect on the big problems of life, help others find meaning. They exist, insofar as they are mobile. The mobile condition is constitutive for the authenticity of existence.
We are in 1998. Zygmunt Bauman defines mobility as the new source of inequality. To the classic sources of inequality – economic, social, cultural – he adds mobility. Mobility becomes a right that is enjoyed by some but not by others.
We are in 2010. The French journal Politique publishes a special issue devoted, tellingly, to the “mobilitarian ideology.” It describes the transition from the paradigm of mobility to the ideology of mobility, an ideology that “causes harm”. The result is few liberties and many inequalities and misfortunes. Refusing mobility means being a loser. It has become difficult to defend positive images of immobility.
What those three so very different interpretations of mobility have in common is its constructed character – “the political fabrication of mobility,” as Gildas Simon aptly puts it. Those three periods correspond to three types of narratives, analyzed below.
From the “Natural” Traditional Settled Lifestyle to Supermodern Hypermobility
“A man is of all sorts of luggage the most difficult to be transported,” Adam Smith noted ironically more than two hundred years ago. For a long historical period of time, the settled way of life was regarded as a “natural” state. This understanding has both descriptive and normative dimensions. It is an expression of the state of society where the vast mass of peasants was bound to the land. Peasants made up four-fifths of the population in preindustrial societies. Although the “soil model” and the “blood model” would later acquire enormous political weight, in the premodern era “soil” was understood in a different way. It meant attachment, but also bondage to the land, to the community and to its small territory. Several centuries later, the “soil model” would be constructed as citizenship, independent from communities.
In this premodern reading, the settled way of life is represented as natural. Biological metaphors abound: “It was assumed that, similarly to tropical plants in the North or fern in the desert, individuals could not acclimatize themselves to a foreign environment. People were bound to the land through their physical state and biological history.” In his Persian Letters, Montesquieu is even more categorical both in the “diagnosis” – “When we are transported to a foreign country we become ill,” and in the “remedy” – “Men ought to stay where they are.”
After the mass migrations to the New World upset the settled way of life, twentieth-century social sciences began to deconstruct its “naturalness.” By the twenty-first century, the picture had changed dramatically: now it is not the settled way of life but mobility that is “natural”: “Nowadays we are all on the move.” We are moving more and more, to ever more distant places. In just thirty-five years (1970–2005), passenger traffic in Western Europe grew from two to five billion kilometers a year; daily mobility also increased from twenty-nine kilometers in 1984 to thirty-eight kilometers in 2000. The empirical visibility and quantifiability of mobility are supplemented by arguments of a more fundamental character. For Zygmunt Bauman, we are on the move in a more general sense, regardless of whether we take to the road, whether we want to or detest it: “The idea of the ‘state of rest’, of immobility, makes sense only in a world that could be taken for such.” The contemporary late modern (Anthony Giddens), second modern (Ulrich Beck), supermodern (Georges Balandier) world has long since stopped being such and globalization has vastly intensified this change, pushing economies toward production of ephemeral, fast-disappearing, unstable things. In a world without hard-and-fast realities and fixed borders, people have nowhere to settle down; they are compelled to be nomads.
I will illustrate this social and theoretical turn from the norm of a settled way of life to the norm of mobility with two concepts, three forms, two paradoxes, two trends, and two interpretations. Before I proceed to do so, let us turn to philosophy, which theorizes concepts in the most subtle way and which is most sensitive to the change of paradigms.
Martin Heidegger defines the paradigm of sedentarism: thought can be exercised properly only in a familiar and habitual place, in a habitat where being returns to itself. Julia Kristeva, a Bulgarian-born French intellectual with a European identity and a cosmopolitan spirit, summarizes the transition to the paradigm of mobility: I do not inhabit a place, but a crossroads. The fact of not inhabiting is not a promise for happiness. Yet it could be a chance: the chance to situate yourself at the crossroads of cultures, the chance that allows you to see the restrictions and the openness of the ones and the Others.
The first concept from the theoretical series with which I will introduce the paradigm of mobility is supermodern mobility. It is defined as “population movements (migrations, tourism, professional mobility), in instant communications and in the circulation of products, images, and information.” This is a very broad definition of mobility, where mobility becomes almost synonymous with globalization, not a dimension or consequence of the latter.
The second concept is neo-nomadism. Yasmine Abbas defines it as a
transformation … resulting from a multiple mobility that is simultaneously physical, digital, and mental. Neo-nomadism presupposes transgressions aiming to overcome the established security as well as the art of non-conformism engaging a dual play or a dual self.
According to Abbas, the more intense the mobility, the more complex its consequences encompassing the identity of individuals, information, things, and spaces.
Neo-nomadism builds on traditional nomadism in a curious way. Mobile phone companies know perfectly well what an insatiable market they have in Africa. There is no regular power supply, recharging is difficult, yet mobile phone sales are growing. Where is the key? In the combination of old and new forms of mobility. People with a nomadic culture and mobile trades have promptly adapted to the new situation, inventing the service of “battery charger.”
Mobility takes various forms. John Urry distinguishes corporeal, imaginative, and virtual mobilities. Corporeal mobility involves physical movement of individuals, be it by walking, air travel, car-driving or sailing. It is not just people who move among objects; objects themselves are designed and created in the mobility-stability continuum: “The fact that objects are conceived materially and culturally shows the ways of]habitation and positioning within spaces.” Young people from Sofia to Shanghai, who wear “I [heart] NY” T-shirts, are one of the many examples of imaginative mobility, “whereby the consumption of certain objects involves metaphorically the consumption of other places or cultures.” Second Life is a typical illustration of virtual mobility whose ambitious aim is to move life to a new, virgin space open to invention, exploration, and creation. Nowadays it is almost impossible to imagine traveling somewhere without taking a virtual trip in advance – by means of Google Maps, online booking, countless websites, platforms, blogs. We communicate less with our fellow-travelers at our hotel than with those who have commented on and recommended it on TripAdvisor.
Mobility is controversial, and it has become even more so in the contemporary world. Here I will point out two paradoxes. The first is mobility for the sake of settlement. More and more people are becoming ever more mobile not because they want to leave the places they are attached to but because they do not want to leave them. Fast trains and planes allow people to work far from home while continuing to live in the place where they have family, friends, roots, bonds. This form of mobility has replaced migration. We travel instead of moving. “We travel more and more, while remaining less mobile.”
Sedentarism and mobility are so inseparable that they produce all forms of interdependence, including sedentarism for the sake of mobility. In Japan, for example, to get a mobile phone you need to have a permanent address. Yet mobile phones are not a luxury item but a must-have in order to get a job. Lack of sedentarism can exclude one from telecommunications mobility which is key to professional mobility. To break this vicious circle, the Japanese government has allowed mobile phone companies to recognize the park in Osaka as a valid address.
The second paradox is related to an increasing total mobility and lack of increase in the number of movements per capita. Instead of a general upward trend, there is a variety of different trends. International migrations are increasing both in terms of volume and of flows. Mobility involving change of residence is leveling off, or even decreasing. What is increasing is the amount of time spent on mobility. We are spending ever more time on the move. This trend first emerged and is strongest in countries with an extensive network of roads and railways, such as Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.
The contemporary changes in mobility can be summed up in two trends: change of the reasons for mobility and change of the temporality of mobility.
Until just several decades ago, the main reason for mobility was work, but today its share is down to 20–30 percent. Leisure-time mobility has increased significantly: from twenty-three minutes a day in 1984 to fifty minutes twenty years later. Until the 1960s, there was a clear distinction between work, home, and leisure time, a division of labor between genders and socio-occupational categories. Spatial differentiation was a visible and important dimension of their distinction. Le Corbusier’s architectural utopia formulated the principle that “each function needs a place of its own, while every place should serve one and only one function.” Le Corbusier’s ideal city represents the ideal of sedentarism. This is the utopia of immobility. The mass introduction of paid leave in the twentieth century allowed ever more people to begin to discover their own country – “Get to know your country in order to love it” – as well as to travel to ever more distant destinations.
The contemporary world is increasingly blurring and erasing the boundaries between work and leisure time, between the public and the private sphere: home is no longer just a family space; it is providing ever more opportunities for entertainment (television, video, the internet) as well as for work thanks to the internet and telecommunications.
New forms of mobility are emerging worldwide, such as the one involving multiple residences: a growing number of people have two or more homes (an apartment in the city and a house/cottage in the countryside).
Many people spend one, two, or even three hours a day on commuting. What type of temporality is that? Is it wasted time – neither work nor leisure? For some, it undoubtedly is. For others, it is the only “private” time of the day, time for thinking, dreaming, relaxing, reading. Some prefer to spend it on communicating. The number of daily commuters is growing and traveling by train is a convenient time for meeting new people, for communicating in the dining car with mobile friends. “The increase in the mobility time budget is not felt to be wasted time; it is increasingly regarded as a proper time for socializing.”
The second interpretation is normative, with existential overtones. It interprets mobility as a form of liberation and learning about the world, as a most universal education, as intercultural communication in action:
We must learn to go out of ourselves, to go out of our community, to understand that the requirement of universality relativizes cultures, and not vice versa. We must transcend the culturalist Self and promote the transcultural individual, the individual who is interested in all cultures in the world and who is not estranged from any of them.
In this strongly normative understanding, mobility is a democratic right and imperative. It is precisely its normative content that makes this interpretation not just distinct, but categorically different from and opposite to the first one. This interpretation counters the economic logic of globalization with the political logic of democratization:
When economic logic refers to mobility, it does so in order to define a technical ideal of productivity. Democratic practices are inspired by the opposite point of view. Ensuring mobility of bodies and mobility of minds as early as possible and as long as possible would bring, among everything else, material prosperity too. In every true democracy, mobility of the spirit ought to be an absolute ideal and a prime duty.
The normative content is so strong that it becomes utopian; however, it is utopian not in a naïve, non-reflexive, but in a conscious manner, where it is transformed into a political program: “The time has come for a new planetary mobility and a new utopia of education. But we are only at the beginning of this new history.”
Mobility: Hierarchizing and Stratifying
The second narrative aims to deconstruct the liberal and libertarian interpretations of mobility as a logical, inevitable, and positive dimension of globalization. “Supermodern mobility corresponds to the ideology of the system of globalization, an ideology of visibility, self-evidence, and the present.” This hypermobility is not evenly distributed, though; it is stratified and hierarchized: “The dimension along which those ‘high up’ and ‘low down’ are plotted … is their degree of mobility, their freedom to choose where to be.”
Zygmunt Bauman is one of the most outspoken critics of the liberal understanding of mobility. His criticism is directed at three main points:
- The hierarchized essence of mobility: “‘access to global mobility’ … has been raised to the topmost rank among the stratifying factors.”
- Social inequalities. The list of classic sources of inequality – economic, social, cultural – is extended by adding access to mobility.
- The division between elites and non-elites. Elites live in the global space. For them, there are no insurmountable boundaries. Money, transportation and communication technologies eliminate space: “the late-modern capitalists … thanks to the new mobility of their by now liquid resources, do not face limits sufficiently real – solid, tough, resistant” Non-elites are confronted with all sorts of limits and deficits – visas, borders, “Fortress Europe,” lack of economic, educational, communicational capital, which bind them to the local space.
Space-time is experienced in a different, or even opposite, way by elites and non-elites. The former live in time; space is not important to them. The latter live in space: the non-elites “are crushed under the burden of abundant, redundant and useless time they have nothing to fill with. In their time ‘nothing ever happens’.”
To make a more subtle distinction between the different attitudes toward mobility, Bauman constructs two figures: “tourists” and “vagabonds.” The former are either transnational or global. They live in several places or move freely between countries and continents. They travel for business, holidays, or simply because they want to. The latter are compelled to be mobile – because of poverty or violence in the places they come from:
The tourists move because they find the world within their (global) reach irresistibly attractive – the vagabonds move because they find the world within their (local) reach unbearably inhospitable. The tourists travel because they want to; the vagabonds because they have no other bearable choice.”
We all move, but we move separately. Mobility does not eliminate social inequalities and social polarization – it deepens them. Globalization less globalizes than hierarchizes mobility. Globalization itself appears in political discourse as seen by the elites or “tourists,” not as experienced and suffered by the marginalized or “vagabonds.” This is the conclusion drawn by Zygmunt Bauman in his critical interpretation.
The critical narrative also has another version which is not focused on the opposite experience of mobility by different groups; conversely, it is inspired by the universal disturbing experience of mobility:
Whatever the social class and degree of mobility may be, the mental and physical anxiety is overwhelming. Even individuals who are not mobile or little-mobile, communicate with individuals who are ever more mobile. It is difficult to escape from the feeling of anxiety, which is contaminating.
The critical reflection formulates various arguments, among which the environmental ones are especially noteworthy. Whereas traditional nomadism is environment-friendly, postmodern nomadism often wastes resources – from coffee and packaged pizzas to the infrastructure of mobility. Authors such as Yasmine Abbas find that there is “monstrous waste.”
The critiques of mobility mobilize different, and even polar opposite, arguments – from the class-based attitude toward mobility to universal anxiety – but they are unanimous in their negative interpretation of mobility as extrinsic to individuals, as something imposed by the logics of the market, of globalization, and of urbanization.
The Immobility Paradox
The immobility paradox draws attention to the fact that despite the huge visibility of mobility, the overwhelming majority of the world’s population remains immobile. Both ends of this paradox are worthy of a closer look.
On the one hand, we are witnessing fundamental changes in the static and “sedentary” structures of Western society – social class, place of residence, job security, which are complemented and changed by the opposite characteristic of mobility. On the other hand, even in the era of globalization and transnationalization the overwhelming majority of Earth’s citizens – 97 percent – have not migrated. There are more questions than answers:
Why has such a large proportion of the world’s population not migrated? Is it because they do not want to, or do not have the need to? Is it because their ‘moorings’ are holding them firmly in place – their family ties, jobs, culture, familiarity and simply feeling ‘at home’? Or could it be that many millions would want to migrate, but are prevented from doing so, either by their own poverty which isolates them (they do not have a passport, and/or cannot pay for the ticket to travel) or because of the political and institutional barriers to their movement?
If on the global plane immobility categorically prevails over mobility, in the West both sociology and ideology have changed – mobility is a significant and increasingly important fact, and the ideology of mobility is ever more influential.
The Impossible Immobility
The third narrative is related to the idea about the emergence of the ideology of mobility. Mobility has become a must, a membership card of the club of winners. Travel agencies are promoting ever more exotic destinations, employers value experience in another cultural or regional context, universities require their students to study in more than one country, Facebook has become an arena of competition for photos of the stopovers of contemporary nomads… Images are omnipresent, attractive, and imperative. They both attract and oblige. Mobility has become the norm – either as a requirement for a more dynamic career or as an intercultural bonus. Every departure from the norm is regarded not as a countercultural gesture but as a failure. The lack of mobility is seen not as a choice but as a deficiency.
While in the first narrative mobility is freedom, in the third it has become an imperative. While the first emphasizes the dynamic tendency whereby spatial mobility is a path to career mobility and advancement, the third emphasizes the weight and restrictive function of these norms, policies, and practices which make positive images of immobility impossible.
We see the complex path of the theorizations of mobility. The majority of authors, publications and conceptualizations subscribe to the first narrative – mobility as the human face of globalization which complements the economic logic of the movement of capital and goods with the political, social, and existential logic of the movement of people. The second narrative critically deconstructs the first, showing that mobility has a liberating dimension which, however, works for those who are already free – that is, elites. Those who are excluded economically, socially, and culturally are also those who are most excluded from mobility. Instead of equalizing, mobility aggravates inequalities, itself becoming a new source of inequality. The third narrative is also critical, but in an entirely different way from the second. It laments not insufficient mobility, but excessive mobility. Not necessarily excessive mobility in reality but, rather, excessive mobility in norms. The criticism in this third perspective is directed at the ideologization of mobility, at its transformation into an attribute of and imperative for realization and success in life, at the imperative character of mobility which makes it impossible to construct positive images of immobility.
This reconstruction of the narratives of mobility is very West-centric. It refers to the attitude toward mobility in the developed West from the second half of the twentieth century. If we look at the European East, we will see that both the narratives and the periods are entirely different.
The first difference is the incomparably smaller number of narratives. Mobility is not a central subject of research. One may say that under the communist regime it was tabooed. International mobility was completely expropriated from the sphere of the individual and placed under the control of the state. At the same time, the state looked much more favorably on, and even encouraged, internal mobility – from rural to urban areas. It is precisely with regard to the latter that we see two major themes that bring it close to the Western interpretations – mobility in space as career and social mobility and mobility in its existential dimension.
The second difference is that while in the West the critical interpretations have been multiplying in the last two or three decades, the postcommunist East has de-etatized and individualized the decision to migrate, discovering the irresistible charm of mobility as freedom, realization, reconstruction of the Self.
The way that can be described
is not the universal and eternal Way.
Lao-Tzu wrote this dictum in the fourth century BC. Today the heart of experimental creativity in Beijing, the 798 Art District, offers its own reading of one of the most interpreted sayings over the centuries: “In other words, the Way cannot be explained with words, and even if it could, that would not be the true Way.” Tao – the Way – are the values that allow us to live in harmony – with nature, with the others, with ourselves.
For centuries, the Way or road has challenged, frightened, and fascinated humanity. What is more, it has inspired both philosophical reflections and existential experience. The twenty-first century has affirmed it as a lifestyle; policies seek to deal with it in all its forms– promoting it as tourism, but restricting it as migration.
The Birth of Homo viator
|“You said, the first time I was born, what does that mean?” I ask.
He beams, exposing all his teeth – small, narrow, mottled, like wild rice.
“First time born in Brunei,” Zeeshan repeats. “Second time born in whole world. So I’m from everywhere. The world is my home.”
Elif Shafak, Honour (New York: Viking, 2012), 202.
This wonderful excerpt from Elif Shafak’s Honour announces “the birth” of Homo viator. [TOVA TUK ILI PREDI QUOTE??]
This symbolic birth is poetic, as it is in Honour, an epic novel by the writer “with a suitcase” about travel, romance, (im)possibilities, crimes – about the dramas of separation, about the will to move on and about (not) discovering who you are in moving on … This symbolic birth is theoretical: travel is transformed from an adventure into theory, as in Michel Onfray’s book Théorie du voyage and the exponential increase in the number of publications, conferences, projects on the subject. This birth is political in that it encourages travel and restricts a number of other forms of mobility. This birth is economic in that it promotes tourism, cruises, and all sorts of tempting offers that attract ever more consumers in ever more economies, and ever more economics depending ever more on the formed and encouraged thirst for travel.
From his or her very birth, Homo viator breaks away from the subject of birth. Zeeshan, one of Elif Shafak’s characters, dematerializes the home – “The world is my home”; Pembe, another of Elif Shafak’s characters, dematerializes origin and family. Blood ties thin out, losing their determining role as they are swept away by the longing for and will to travel.
|…her eyes aglow. “I’m going to be a sailor and travel the world. Every week I’ll wake up in a new harbour.”
Jamila had never felt more alone. She understood that as identical as they were in all respects, there was one vital difference: ambition. Pembe wanted to see the world beyond the River Euphrates. She had the nerve to pursue her heart, and not pay attention to what others thought about her. For a sinking moment it dawned on Jamila that she and her twin were bound to spend their lives apart.
Elif Shafak, Honour (New York: Viking, 2012), 38.
Travel: Sociality, Temporality, Ethicality
Travel is polyphonic. Movement in space is its most visible aspect, but its temporal and social ones are just as intriguing:
[A] long journey exists simultaneously in space, in time, and in the social hierarchy. … Travel … can hardly ever fail to wreak a transformation of some sort, great or small, and for better or for worse, in the situation of the traveler. He may go up in the world, or he may go down; and the feeling and flavor of the places he visits will be inseparable in his mind from the exact position in the social scale which he will have occupied there.
“I am an engineer by education and a traveler by heart” – the love of travel supersedes profession. “Emigration as an adventure,” “The imagination of travel” – the media inundate us with romantic, alluring, seductive images of travel. Travel is constructed as an object of strong desire. Its pragmatic function – arrival – is minimized in order to enhance its imagined and libidinal dimension. Travel and arrival are divided, the former is given strong positive connotations while the latter is lowered and devalued: “Indeed, travelling … is … much more pleasurable than to arrive. Arrival has that musty smell of the end of the road, that bitter taste of monotony and stagnation…”
The temporality of travel is one of its most attractive aspects; travel fascinates with the possibility of leaving the realm of anonymous social time rhymed with work and duties, and entering into the realm of subjective time rhymed with freedom, wishes, whims: “As a self-sufficient monad, the traveler rejects social, collective, and restrictive time in the name of a specific time constructed by subjective continuities, festive and desired moments. … The nomad rejects the clock and lives according to the Sun and the stars…”
To avoid falling into the atomized individualism of subjectivized temporality, travel has introduced a new ethic that eschews the omnipresence of power and the economization of existence in the freedom of nomadism:
The art of travel introduces us to the ethic of leisure time, to the war declared on the framing and timekeeping of existence. The city imposes transparent sedentarism between the spatial abscissa and the temporal ordinate: being always in a particular place at a particular moment. Thus, the individual is easily identified and controlled by the authorities. The nomad rejects this logic which allows turning time into money.
The Poetics of Travel
“I fantasize a magic day.” We read Eugenio Montale’s Nobel-winning poetry and discover the picturesque Cinque Terre through his eyes. We read the poems both in Italian in order to enjoy the music of the original, and in English in order to feel them better. Let’s take a moment for a brief rest and an aromatic coffee – and a taste of poetry. The Nobel Prize winner was born in the beautiful region of Liguria and we discover “the yellows of the lemons” that inspired him so much; but we also see how the urban environment inspired by his poetic vision has used creative marketing to represent it as a kaleidoscope of forms, nuances, and artifacts. We have embarked on our journey long before the journey itself: whether from Montale’s poetry, the stunning photos of National Geographic, or the comments on travel blogs – it doesn’t really matter. Poetics, landscape, and travel overlap.
Imagined travel is all around us and is done by all sorts of means “at hand.” A passage in a the Brussels metro offers a trip with poetry: “One poem, one trip, how many journeys?” Panels with short poems in three languages – the original, French, and Dutch – catch our gaze.
Fret not where the road will take you. Instead concentrate on the first step. That’s the hardest part and that’s what you are responsible for. Once you take that step let everything do what it naturally does and the rest will follow. Do not go with the flow. Be the flow.
|Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi (New York: Viking Penguin, 2010), 136.
It always made me both immensely sad and elated to listen to a town sleep, wondering what sorts of stories were being lived behind close doors, what sorts of stories I could have lived had I chosen another path. But I hadn’t made any choice. If anything, the path had chosen me.
The path and the traveler – the struggle for authorship. Does the traveler choose the path, or the path chooses the traveler? The challenge lies in the path to the answer.
The traveler is a universal figure: from Homo erectus to Homo numericus, all are on the move. The names have multiplied – Homo mobilis, Homo viator – but the message is powerful and unambigious:
The human being is Homo viator, an eternal wanderer prompted to leave his place of birth and to travel over ever longer distances. He is guided both by his imagination and by purely pragmatic considerations…
The French journal Sciences humaines devoted a special issue to homo viator. Why do we travel, which routes attract us more than others, is travel senseless, or does it make sense – although the questions multiply and interpretations abound, all of them, regardless of their tone (apologetic or critical), enthrone the traveler as a central figure of contemporary society.
Specific figures of Homo viator have also been constructed – such as that of business travelers, whom USA Today calls “road warriors.” This American newspaper has a weekly section on Business Travel, where it presents colorful figures who live “on wheels” or, in their contemporary version, “on wings”: one of them has spent 150 to 180 days a year traveling on business for nineteen years now. Another has improved this record to 222 days. The records are of different types: a mobile television executive managed to travel to five continents in twenty-nine hours.
Yasmine Abbas constructs the figure of the neo-nomad and burdens it with huge expectations:
Neo-nomadism is a condition and state of mind that keeps us constantly on the alert and makes us problematize everything. Neo-nomadism is a subversive discourse and a metaphor that contests the idea of boundaries. To innovate, one must go beyond, pass through, explore in-between spaces.
Marinella has spent the last five months traveling across Asia with her boyfriend – in India, Vietnam, Cambodia, China. There is one month left until the end of her trip. It seems to her that time has flown and she finds it difficult to imagine returning home. Marinella is a teacher in a small Swiss village. She teaches farmers’ children, trying to excite them about the cultural challenges and riches of the wider world. She practices martial arts, finds Asian culture fascinating, speaks a little Chinese, talks about Asian culture, food, nature with passion and love. She does not always manage to convey her passion and fascination, as the contrast between her global cultural horizon and the local professional and cultural context is too big. The children listen to her with curiosity, but most quickly shrug in bewilderment – they cannot see how Tibet can fit into their farm world.
If you fall in love with the road, you will forget the destination.
Sam and Sara are a young couple from Australia with a ten-year-old son. They are happy that they are on the road again. They met on the road and they live on the road. Sam is an engineer, he has no problem finding a job and he never works for too long – just several months a year, enough to earn money for his true life on wheels. Sara takes whatever job comes along in their settled periods. When their son was born they stopped traveling in order to bring him up and ensure his smooth entry into the education system. Aged ten, he is now old enough to hit the road. The family’s travels are now syncopated by the rhythm of school holidays.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” [Alice asked Cheshire Puss.]
|“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Michaela almost has no idea where she is traveling to. What matters to her is moving away, being on the move. Her mother died suddenly and she could not bear the loss, the trauma, the emptiness. So she set off. To faraway places. For a long time. She does not know how long or how far away.
Anton earned a Bachelor’s Degree in the UK. Before doing a Master’s he wants to take some time off for himself. To him this means traveling. Born in the Balkans, he knows Eastern Europe quite well and has also traveled quite extensively in Western Europe, so he wants to discover new horizons. He chose China. He teaches English to support himself and spends his holidays traveling across the vast Chinese lands, across the motley Asian continent.
Those people I met on the Asian roads illustrate different types of travelers. I will distinguish five types.
The Local Global Traveler
This paradoxical figure seeks to creatively overcome the association of globality with mobility and of locality with immobility. Zygmunt Bauman does not merely classify the forms of mobility and sedentarism in an asymmetrical manner; he also constructs the social actors of mobility in an opposite way. At the global end, social actors are active and can consume their access to mobility at will. At the local end, Bauman describes an imposed passivity where individuals cannot become social actors since they have been deprived of one of the effective instruments for this – namely, mobility which could extract them from the marginality of locality understood simultaneously as geographical, social, and symbolic locality. Marinella is a successful example of an individual who has overcome this division. Her job confines her to a local world that is too small for her in every sense – as a possibility for career advancement and as access to intercultural interaction in the communicative, cultural, and social sense. Traveling is the counterbalance, the antidote, the taste of globality that makes locality bearable. The figure of the local global traveler neither denies nor rejects Bauman’s theoretical construction; this figure aims to relativize it, to show the sources of counteraction and the possible breakthroughs in the inequalities of mobility. The second analytical ambition of the construction of the figure of the local global traveler pertains to the approach: while Bauman draws the thesis of inequality in mobility from a structural analysis of globalization as a system of economic and political power, this analysis seeks the power of human agency, the activity of social actors. The perimeter of the latter’s action is of course strongly limited precisely by the economic-political power mechanisms. If Marinella, a young woman from Switzerland, has succeeded in fitting global mobility into her local world, that is because her own locality is quite “central” not in a geographical but in the more important – economic – sense.
The Global Traveler
In contrast to the global local traveler who works in the local but – in traveling, symbolically and culturally – prefers the global context, the figure of the global traveler unites those two dimensions of his or her life, and combines work, new cultures, and mobility. The same combination is characteristic of emigration, too. Why, then, do I regard global travelers as a type of mobile humans, not of migrants? For two reasons: because for them, leaving their home country does not mean leaving it forever, or at least that is what they think at the time of departure;because it is not an economic necessity but a choice.
I have in mind a rapidly growing group of young professionals with excellent education and promising careers, who decide to change their job and look for new opportunities abroad: Solenne worked as a PR expert at a prestigious institute in Paris before she found the same type of job in Montreal, but this time as head of the PR department at a dance center. Asked whether hers is “emigration” or “expatriation,” she firmly replies: “Expatriation.”
This group becomes especially visible in a situation of economic crisis. What is significant is that most of its members stress that the crisis is not the key factor for mobility, even though it often catalyzes the decision to move. A young French couple – a town planner and a primary school teacher – are going to China. The man has already found a job at a Chinese-French school, and the woman also believes that her expertise in town planning will soon be duly appreciated. If the crisis is an “accelerator,” not a motor of the decision to leave, which is the decisive factor? The answer is not surprising: experience in mobility. The couple have spent their childhoods abroad, living abroad for fifteen and five years respectively. This also holds true for children of immigrants. Instead of settling and integrating into society according to the classic assimilation model, second-generation immigrants opt for migration and/or mobility. A case in point are the well-educated children of immigrants from the Maghreb in France, who are interested in moving to the wealthy Arab Gulf states.
The group of global travelers is growing at an impressive rate: in France alone, it increased by 12 percent in a single year; in 2012 the share of young French professionals who wanted to move abroad was 15 percent, while in 2013 it was 27 percent. This group casts a bridge to the “Eurostars,” a migration category that describes the new trends in highly-qualified mobility. The figure of Homo viator overcomes, much more categorically than the Eurostars, the strict division between work and leisure time, and the respective forms of mobility: labor mobility in the first case; tourism, travel, and existential mobility in the second. The purpose of this article is to show how those classic distinctions are becoming increasingly irrelevant in our fluid, mobile era.
The Post-Protestant Individual
An original work of art serves as an introduction to this interesting figure. Martin Creed rendered in lower-case white neon letters and installed across the blank pediment of my favorite museum of modern art in London, Tate Modern, the following equation:
“The whole world + the work = the whole world”
Work is the central category in Max Weber’s Protestant ethic. It organizes the whole lifeworld. All other significant factors and dimensions either have peripheral functions – such as the family or heritage – or are postponed for the future – such as pleasure or consumption. In Martin Creed’s ironic piece of art, work loses its central role; moreover, it is deprived of any role whatsoever. It exists but does not add anything to the world. It is annihilated in terms of value added; with or without it, the world is the same. Ergo, what is interesting in the world is elsewhere. I would say that this piece is an artistic valediction to the work-oriented Protestant world. One of the paths taken by the post-Protestant individual is that of mobility.
The transition from the Protestant work ethic to the postmodern ethos/pathos of mobility is best illustrated by highly successful professionals who prefer to introduce and identify themselves as “globetrotters.” Michael Clinton, president of Hearst Magazines, is one of many in this motley group. Having traveled to 120 countries across the globe, he is eager to keep going. He is the consummate traveler who delights in exploring new routes – routes to new destinations and routes in the form of marathons. Marathons as a corporeal experience of distances and as an original way of discovering new places. After running the marathon in Mongolia in 2013, Michael Clinton ran the one in Antarctica in 2014 – the culmination of his “quest to run seven marathons in seven years on seven continents.”
To forget a relationship, some try promiscuous sex, I tried promiscuous geography. I picked cities at random, usually traveling by train, I changed stations and hotels … I looked like a person who wanted to abandon his own abandonment behind some corner. Like someone looking for a distant and unknown place to release the cats of his sorrow, so that they would never find the way home.
|Georgi Gospodinov, The Physics of Sorrow, trans. Angela Rodel (Rochester, NY: Open Letter Books, 2015), 187.
The Existential Traveler
The existential traveler is the favorite character of a boundless literary field, the subject of countless essays, poems, novels. What makes this character so irresistibly attractive is that the existential traveler is Homo viator par excellence, the most vivid personification of the idea of mobility not as economic compulsion or necessity, but as freedom and quest – for a world and for the self.
Travel can change us in ways we never expected. It can help us explore our inner selves and learn more about ourselves. It can question our deepest-held beliefs and prejudices, and make us reconsider our attitudes, our personal relationships, and even our mentality.
This is the confession of a globetrotter; countless others would agree with him. Travel in space is travel in the psyche, memory, and identity – the twenty-first century has not invented a new understanding but has generalized its uses.
The quest for identity does not have a preset course. Some seek to find themselves: “East, west, south, or north makes little difference. No matter what your destination, just be sure to make every journey a journey within. If you travel within, you’ll travel the whole wide world and beyond.” Others seek to free themselves from themselves: “Move even once, and it has consequences; it changes you. You can never really go back. The liberating feeling can even get to be quite addictive. You might keep chasing it. It could even hold the key to the deepest freedom of all: freedom from your self.”
|“Frances and I are very different,” he told me. “I’m quite laid-back and sedentary, while she’s a firecracker. When she was little she wanted to be an explorer, and her favorite book was Cabeza de Vaca’s Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America, by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, a sixteenth-century Spanish adventurer. She would have liked to go to the ends of the earth, to the bottom of the sea, to the moon. My South American journey was her idea; it’s what she had planned and won’t be able to do. So I have to try to see with her eyes, hear with her ears, and film with her camera.”
Isabel Allende, Maya’s Notebook, trans. Anne McLean (New York: HarperCollins, 2013), 187.
Sameness and selfhood (ipseity) are intimately intertwined in every identity, as we know from Paul Ricoeur, but the fluid existence of Homo viator makes their inseparable
intertwinement, the interferences between identity and otherness, natural and expected: on my journey, which was her idea, “I have to try to see with her eyes, hear with her ears, and film with her camera.” The other’s has become more intimate than mine; magic realism is unsurpassed in identity alchemies.
Generation T (Travel)
“On my birthday I go to the railway station and catch the first train I see,” says Emma, a typical representative of the Travel Generation for which mobility is the best gift. If you have friends to travel with, that will be great; if you don’t, that’s fine – it’s always curious to find out where the road will take you.
Russia, Bulgaria, Italy, Germany – the first European summer of Sun, a young woman from China, is tightly packed. She has been saving up for two years, her parents have also chipped in, she is staying with friends, couch surfing… This European “premiere” is not her initiation into travel; her first big adventure was in Tibet, where she went on her own while she was still in her first year at university, despite her parents’ reservations. At the time of writing, she is discovering Japan; she has also seized the first opportunity for mobility at her Chinese university to study in South Korea. A global traveler with a global name: she has chosen a beautiful name easy to pronounce for everyone, she loves it, and everyone – friends and colleagues alike – call her “Sun.”
Everyone, they say, is looking for something. Imp was looking for somewhere to go.
|Terry Pratchett, Soul Music (London: Corgi, 1995), 13.
“Travel is not a panacea, but it completely changes people.” This is the motto of L.N., a traveler, travel blogger, coordinator for Eastern Europe of MOVE Week, and owner of an alternative fitness studio. Her recipe is “losing yourself”: “You switch off the GPS, remove the map, put away the camera and simply enjoy yourself.” She has lived in two or three countries and travels to different destinations two or three times a month. At first she was interested in “the advertised things,” such as museums or architecture, but now she thinks that “people are more interesting.”
Homo viator appears in a variety of forms. Despite their differences, they have several things in common. The first is “hunger for the road.” The road is an object of such strong desire that it is multiplied to infinity. M.K. runs marathons in the new countries he visits. One road fits into another like endless nesting dolls.
The second is discursive travel. The traveler is a reflexive Self: travelers travel and write about their travels. If the marathon is M.K.’s “trademark,” discursive travel is almost unavoidable for the majority of travelers. Travel writing continues to flourish in classic and new forms: diaries, books, blogs…
The third is play. Travel is too much of a challenge to be left to total improvisation, but it is precisely the latter that lends it a taste of freedom, experiment, discovery, surprise: “Follow the 80/20 rule. Plan just 80 percent of your trip and leave the rest for unexpected discoveries,” says Kate White, a writer and former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan.
The fourth is the “home away from home” philosophy. The more mobile contemporary nomads become, the more the products enabling them to “make” a home for themselves in mobility. The latest hit, “home away from home,” is simultaneously a philosophy, lifestyle, and boutique hotel – all mixed into one by Ian Schrager, the guru of new tourism. HoMEtel is an innovative design project which is in tune with the new tendency of personalizing hotel rooms, of making a “home” in transitory spaces. Paradoxically, making sure one feels at home has become almost an obsession for the contemporary neo-nomad.
The fifth characteristic is what Yasmine Abbas defines as “serial identities”: “neo-nomads deconstruct one ‘at home’ upon every departure; they reconstruct one familiar ‘at home’ upon every arrival, serial ‘at homes,’ similar and different, a function both of their collections and of the material available upon their arrival.”
Mobility in a Social-Critical, Civic-Democratic, and Normative-Existential Perspective
Homo viator is the figure of the transition from migration to mobility, from arrows to spaghetti, from national to cosmopolitanized biographies. The arrow represents the classic understanding of migration, visualizing with its solid, categorical and predictable form, the grand narrative of this theoretical paradigm. Spaghetti relativize the strong hierarchy between center and periphery, between departure and sedentarism – a hierarchy implicit in arrows. They illustrate the ever more individualized and diversified mobile trajectories, the transnationalization of migration practices.
Homo viator is the subject of numerous interpretations, among which I will single out four in conclusion: descriptive-analytical, social-critical, civic-democratic, and normative-existential.
The analytical perspective represents Homo viator as a carrier and exponent of key tendencies in contemporary society, such as deterritorialization and individualism. The increase in flows itself can be interpreted as an expression of the freedom of movement and democratization.
The social-critical concept focuses on the constructed character of Homo viator. A huge “industry” is mobilized to produce the consumer of the products of mobility. These products are creative, attractive, and prestigious but the traveler is merely an extra in play written by others.
|… roads, new roads probing endlessly, shamelessly, as though all that mattered was to be elsewhere.
Ian McEwan, Amsterdam (London: Jonathan Cape, 1998), 64.
There is truly nothing I love more than being on the road.
There is truly nothing I love more than being on the road. Thus writes a Bulgarian traveler on her travel blog. This particular blog post is about Malaysia, along with others about Hong Kong, China, Cambodia, Singapore. The traveler is just twenty-two, but Europe is an already familiar destination and she is now keen to explore distant lands. She is one of the many representatives of the Travel Generation. What the civic-democratic interpretation highlights in her experience is the fact that it has become possible in postcommunist times. The transition from a closed to an open society is understood and lived by ever more people, who are young in age or young at heart, as a transition from a small to a big world, from immobile to mobile, from unfree to free. Mobility is a huge democratic achievement. And it is intensely experienced by the postcommunist Homo viator as freedom.
“There is a geography for every temperament.” From Taoism to the present day, the way or road has been laden with normative-existential meaning. The road as a quest, discovery, reconstruction, and the road as “geography” magically interfere. There is no logical or causal relationship between movement in space and identity transformations, but there is a poetics and ethics of the road.
Homo viator is a contradictory figure woven from globalization, identity politics and quests, democratic practices, imagination, poetics and utopia. On one side, Homo viator is a product of the neoliberal vision about globalization, and a huge industry – of goods, images, and symbols – is mobilized for its formation. On another side, Homo viator is an expression of identity quests, of a striving for challenges, discoveries, dialogue. On a third side, Homo viator is a realization of the democratic aspirations to openness and freedom. Homo viator also captivates with the utopia of a social and political world where the central actor is the individual with a will and capacity to be the author of his or her existential, professional, mobile projects.
 In a survey conducted at the end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008, in which two hundred university students presented their ideas about European integration and their assessments of Bulgaria’s first year as an EU member: see Anna Krasteva, “Novite evropeytsi” [The new Europeans], in Parva godina evropeyska Balgaria: izbori i obrazi [First year European Bulgaria: elections and images], ed. Anna Krasteva and Tolya Stoitzova (Sofia: NBU Press, 2008), 97–104.
 Ibid., 97.
 Marc Augé, Pour une anthropologie de la mobilité (Paris: Rivages poche, 2012), 7.
 See Anna Krasteva, Ot migratsia kum mobilnost: politiki i patishta [From migration to mobility: policies and roads] (Sofia: NBU Press, 2014); Vincent Kaufmann, Les paradoxes de la mobilité. Bouger, s’enraciner (Lausanne: Presses polytechniques et universitaires romandes, 2008); Adrian Favell, Еurostars and Eurocities. Free Movement and Mobility in an Integrating Europe (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008).
 This novel has remained iconic for many generations, building up a cult following over the years because it weaves the binding threads of a community with shared values. Every time a new edition of Kerouac’s On the Road comes out, the Bulgarian artist Vladimir Penev buys and gives it to friends.
 Gildas Simon, “Migrants et migrations du monde,” Documentation photographique 8063 (mai–juin 2008).
 Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations: Books I–III (London: Penguin, 1982 ), 70.
 Hervé Le Bras, L’invention de l’immigré (Paris: Aube, 2012), 19.
 Montesquieu, Persian Letters, trans. C. J. Betts (London: Penguin, 1973 ), 176.
 Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 77.
 By all means of transportation.
 Kaufmann, Les paradoxes de la mobilité, 13, 15. Daily mobility has leveled off since 2000.
 Bauman, Globalization, 78.
 Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991).
 Augé, Pour une anthropologie, 8.
 A word play in French on jeu (play) and je self. Yasmine Abbas, Le néo–nomadisme. Mobilités, partage, transformations identitaires et urbaines (FYP éditions, 2011), 9–10.
 Ibid., 11.
 John Urry, Sociology beyond Societies: Mobilities for the twenty-first century. (London and New York: Routledge, 2000).
 Abbas, Le néo–nomadisme, 20.
 Urry, Sociology beyond Societies, 66.
 Kaufmann, Les paradoxes de la mobilité, 23.
 Abbas, Le néo–nomadisme, 11.
 See Kaufmann, Les paradoxes de la mobilité.
 Ibid., 17.
 Bauman, Globalization, 42.
 See Augé, Pour une anthropologie.
 A program, slogan, and mass practice in Bulgaria after the 1960s.
 Kaufmann, Les paradoxes de la mobilité, 23.
 Augé, Pour une anthropologie, 107.
 Ibid., 106.
 Ibid., 107–8.
 Ibid., 8–9.
 Bauman, Globalization, 86.
 Ibid., 87.
 Ibid., 10–11.
 Ibid., 88.
 Ibid., 92–93; emphasis original.
 Abbas, Le néo–nomadisme, 14.
 Russell King, Theories and Typologies of Migration: An Overview and a Primer, Willy Brandt Series of Working Papers in International Migration and Ethnic Relations 3/12 (Malmö: Malmö University, 2012), 5.
 In some countries students and academics are required to pursue each level of their career in a different university in a different city.
 Although internal mobility, too, was strictly controlled as well as restricted with regard to the capital and the big cities through the residence permit system. Similar restrictions on internal mobility are in place in China to this very day.
 “My imagination is my suitcase” – this is Elif Shafak’s motto.
 Michel Onfray, Théorie du voyage. Poétique de la géographie (Paris: Poche, 2007).
 Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, trans. John Russell (New York: Criterion Books, 1961 ), 89–90.
 Irina Vagalinska, “Emigratsiyata kato priklyuchenie” [Emigration as an adventure], Tema 27 (2012): 57–58.
 Héloïse Lherete, “L’imaginaire du voyage,” volume thématique, Sciences humaines 240, no. 8 (2012): 30–31.
 Bauman, Globalization, 84.
 Onfray, Théorie du voyage, 16.
 Ibid., 15.
 In October 2013.
 http://www.transpoesie.eu/ The TRANSPOESIE poetry festival is an annual event launched in 2011. It officially begins at the end of September, marking the European Day of Languages on 26 September.
Georges Amar and Armand Hatchuel, Homo mobilis. Le nouvel âge de la mobilité (Limoges: FYP éditions, 2010).
 Jean-François Dortier, “Homo viator,” Sciences humaines 240, no. 8 (2012): 8–9.
 August–September 2012.
 Céline Bagault, “Les conquérants de l’inutile,” Sciences humaines 240, no. 8 (2012): 46–48.
 Héloïse Lherete, “Le sens de la marche,” Sciences humaines 240, no. 8 (2012).
 Gary Stoller, “Travel much? These folks do. Road warriors tell stories on marathon trips in really short time frames,” USA Today, July 11, 2012.
 Abbas, Le néo–nomadisme, 52.
 These life stories are from the author’ fieldwork in China in 2014. All names are pseudonymes.
 Elise Vincent, “Pourquoi des jeunes choisissent de s’expatrier,” Le Monde, July 31, 2013, http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2013/07/31/pourquoi-des-jeunes-choisissent-de-s-expatrier_3455644_3224.html.
 Favell, Еurostars and Eurocities.
 Michael Clinton, “Move Over, Penguins, Marathon Coming Through,” The New York Times, June 6, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/08/travel/move-over-penguins-marathon-coming-through.html?_r=0.
 Ivaylo Haralampiev, “Puteshestviyata na Klintun” [Clinton’s travels], Capital Light, June 27, 2013, http://www.capital.bg/light/lica/2013/06/27/2091092_puteshestviiata_na_klintun/.
 Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi (New York: Viking Penguin, 2010), 86.
 Favell, Еurostars and Eurocities, 11.
 Paul Ricoeur, Oneself as Another, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992).
 “Patuvaneto ne e panatsea, no…” [Travel is not a panacea but…], Capital Light, June 8–14, 2013.
 an annual Europe-wide campaign week promoting sport and physical activity
 Haralampiev, “Puteshestviyata na Klintun.”
 Ivaylo Haralampiev, “Chovek na myasto” [Right man for the job], Capital Light, June 27, 2013, http://www.capital.bg/light/lica/2013/06/27/2091776_chovek_na_miasto/.
 Abbas, Le néo–nomadisme, 52.
 Ibid., 49.
 Ibid., 127.
 Anna Krasteva, Ot migratsia kum mobilnost, 2014.
 Guy Herzlich, “L’immigration mondialisée,” Le Monde Initiative 31 (2004): 14.
 Laurence Roulleau-Berger, Migrer au féminin (Paris: PUF, 2010).
 Augé, Pour une anthropologie.
 Onfray, Théorie du voyage, 21.