Friction in a mobile world and the politics of escape


Joris Schapendonk is organizing the second Transmobilities Conference at Radboud University, Nijmegen in the Netherlands on 8-9 June 2017.  The theme is Friction in a mobile world: Transmigrants, contested citizenship and human in/security:

Human mobility does not occur without social and spatial friction. This is particularly articulated in the context of an increasing securisation of migration whereby states and supra-states tend to frame international migration as a homeland security problem, leading to enhanced border control and the combatting of human smuggling, normalized in the everyday of host societies through television reality programmes like Border Security (Australia), UK Border Force, etc. At the same time, human right organisations and critical scholars have emphasized the human insecurity involved with migration flows and point to the countless deaths of innocent people simply looking for better futures abroad (Ferrer-Gallardo and Van Houtum 2014) as well as the exploitative acts of corrupt border guards and smugglers that are hereby produced (e.g. Triulzi and McKenzie 2012; Van Reisen, Estefanos and Rijken 2014). Moreover, when we look at the dynamics in the destination countries, we see that migrants continue to find themselves in precarious social-economic conditions and legal situations (Schuster 2005; Lucht 2012) with a substantial number of migrants facing the risk of deportation every single day (De Genova and Preutz 2010). Other forms of friction exist in the transnational space between the country of origin and destination locations. The frictions produced concern, among others, contestations over dual citizenship versus senses of loyalty, and the political engagement of diaspora communities on site and elsewhere. Moreover, migrant investments may reproduce, or even exacerbate social inequalities and divisions in countries of origin, not least if they are based on persistent social and cultural obligations.

Yet, the notion of friction is not to be understood in a negative manner only. Frictions can also have profound effects, resulting in new societal directions, or in affirmations of particular social institutions, creating incentives that may be sustainable, because of the hard questions asked on their role and impact along the way. Yet in all cases it does require critical thinking, and analyses that take on various perspectives, are steeped in insights of more holistic developments (geo-political, economic or otherwise), and which maintain an open perspective to temporal and spatial dimensions. This conference consists of the following eight different panels.

  • Locating migrant trajectories: Experiences of displacement, emplacement, and migration industries (Drotbohm & Winters)
  • Active Asylum: Everyday tactics and relational actions contesting asylum regime(s) of EU states (Aparna)
  • Migration, land and contested claims of citizenship (Steel, Kaag & Zoomers)
  • The Politics of Escape: Rapid Mobility, Facilitation and Materiality (Jones & Schapendonk)
  • Education without borders? Frictions and boundary-crossing in the field of internationalised education (Ahrens & Leung)
  • Contested citizenship in urban spaces (Fauser, van Liempt & Nijenhuis)
  • Deportation as Friction (Kleist & Drotbohm)
  • Climate change, infrastructure and new mobilities: frictions in new settlement processes (Otsuki, Zoomers & Oates)

More details from Joris:


As you can see, one of the panels is devoted to ‘the politics of escape’, in which I have a keen interest (think refugees; think casualty evacuation); I’ll be taking part during my tenure as Radboud Excellence Professor.

So here is the Call for Papers for that session (organised by Joris and Craig Jones):

The Politics of Escape: Rapid Mobility, Facilitation and Materiality

This panel discusses the politics and experiences attached to processes of escape. Escape may involve individual and collective evacuations from conflict situations and war zones and hence may refer to sudden life-or-death experiences (refugee movements, evacuation of wounded soldiers). From a very different angle, moments of escape may in fact reflect forms of transgressive mobility that frees the actor from stringent control regimes or entrapment. In the context of the latter, escape routes may create new rooms to manoeuvre and reflect political subversions (Papadopoulos, Stephenson and Tsianos 2008). For example, undocumented migrants often disappear from the radar in the period they encounter the risk of deportation and simply escape to other places. At both extreme ends, processes of escape profoundly reflect the politics of mobility as it articulates the questions of a) who is able to move, and who is not (see also Cresswell (2008) on the Katrina hurricane) b) how is the escape process facilitated, how is it planned or organised? and c) what materiality – i.e. means of transportation, communication, infrastructure – is involved and what kind of experiences does it produce?

This panel starts from William Walters’ notion of viapolitics that articulates the politics of mobility as well as the diverse ways materialities shape processes of movement (Walters 2015). It invites papers that enhance our empirical, methodological and conceptual understanding of processes of escape, we have a particular interest in papers that:

  • –  … relate the notion of escape to processes of mobility (mobilities studies, migration and refugee studies, etc.)
  • –  … discuss the methodological and ethical challenges of investigating processes of escape
  • –  … take a processual approach that follows, or historically reconstructs, processes of escape through time and space


  • Cresswell, T. (2008). Understanding mobility holistically: The case of Hurricane Katrina. The ethics of mobilities: Rethinking place, exclusion, freedom and environment, 129-140.
  • Papadopoulos, D., Stephenson, N., & Tsianos, V. (2008). Escape routes: Control and subversion in the 21st century. Pluto Press.

    Walters, W. (2015). Migration, vehicles, and politics: Three theses on viapolitics. European Journal of Social Theory, 18(4), 469-488.

If you are interested in participating, please send a title and 250-word abstract to Joris Schapendonk ( or Craig Jones ( by 7 April 2017.


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