It's already past 11 in the evening here in Melbourne. I was working on a proposal for a new research project. As I was browsing some scholarly work, I saw the book by Tim Creswell. As I flipped through the pages, I saw one quote that struck me.
Have a read:
"In this world it is important to understand that mobility is more than just about getting from A to B. It is about the contested world of meaning and power. It is about mobilities rubbing up against each other and causing friction. It is about a new hierarchy based on the ways we move and the meanings these movements have been given (p. 265)."
The quote was just spot on to articulate contemporary mobilities. Everyone seems to be on the move, including the global elites, international students, young professionals, migrants, and refugees. But all of these movements are uneven. Referring to the work of John Urry, mobility is resource-driven. One's various capitals that allow movements are different from another person's access to resources. In this sense, some people have become mobile. They can travel from point A to point B without being stopped. Flows are very seamless. Think of the global elites who access and experience premium or worldclass services. In contrast, there are individuals who experience constrained mobilities. Movement across places can become coerced, bumpy and political. A case in point is the ways in which migrants, refugees or vagabonds navigate a mobile world. For them, the world can become unbearable. They do not have a place to stay. They are compelled to move because they are often feared, coded as a 'foe' and just not welcome across places. Think of anti-immigration sentiments that often place migrants as scapegoats in a globalising economy. Of course, mobility is also coded based on gender, age, class and ethnicity (Urry, 2007). Nevertheless, movements are not only embodied through practice. With attached meanings to them, invisible fences are raised to favor certain groups and individuals. Indeed, this then shows how mobility can be stratified, political, and negotiated.
As I was reflecting for the past days about my personal mobilities, it dawned on me that I've been living away from my left-behind family members the Philippines for more than nine yeas now. In March 2008, I embarked on an overseas journey. I was in pain at that time as I was coping from the death of my mother, who passed away in 2006. It was just a stressful to come home every night and miss a familiar voice and face. I was very close to my mother. We were like super friends or bffs. But everything changed when she passed away. So during the darkest days in life, I hoped and prayed for a change of environment. So when I was offered a job in an advertising company based in Brunei, I said, 'yes'. In living overseas, I tried my best to mend the pain of losing someone dear to me. I guess being transplanted into a new environment really helped me. It's as if I was reborn at that time. I learned to move in a new territory. I encountered new faces. I dealt with a new culture. I had to work with clients from diverse cultural backgrounds. I had to train myself eating Malay food, which I loved! Importantly, I had to rely on digital communication technologies to sustain connection to my family members and friends in the Philippines. Indeed, everything was just something that I needed to absorb.
My personal mobility, of going overseas, I should say, was unlikely a smooth travel. It was a movement that I always had to negotiate. I managed to address my personal battles with another painful experience - to be away with my family. As I moved to another country, to be specific, an Islamic country, which is Brunei, I subject myself to years of temporality, ambiguity, longing, and at some point precarity. Presenting and connecting my overseas experiences was the way I used mobile devices on an everyday basis. In fact, before I left Manila, I promised myself to blog my first 365 days in Brunei. I achieved that. Too bad though as all the entries were deleted in Multiply. I won't detail so much of my story in this blog entry. But what made me write this post is how I reflected upon how mobilities are uneven. In a sense, my decision to move overseas was not only driven by a deep desire to cope with my mother's death. Importantly, I sought a better opportunity overseas. I joined the approximately 2.3 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). I also wanted to advance my career.
To date, I am navigating and managing a mobile life. I'm now in Australia. I've been here for more than five years now. But up to now, I'm still learning and unlearning so many things. I don't consider myself lucky by comparing my own mobility over others. However, I consider that my social position - cultural, social, political, and economic background - may allow me to differentially navigate a world. Yet such mobile capacity will always be represented, interpreted and 'tracked' or undermined by the broader social structures in our society. This is most salient in a neo-liberal or market-driven society. In this case, I am moved by Massey's contention, suggesting that individuals and groups are differentially situated across places, institutions, and in our society. Again, to articulate this is to examine how movements of 'mobile subjects' are categorised and controlled in various spaces.
Welcome to a stratified and resource-driven society. My journey has just started.
I am Dr Earvin Charles Cabalquinto. My research interests lie in the intersections of digital media, mobilities and migration.