Show Less
You do not have access to this content

The Mobilities Paradox

A Critical Analysis

Maximiliano E. Korstanje

The theory of mobilities has gained great recognition and traction over recent decades, illustrating not only the influence of mobilities in daily life but also the rise and expansion of globalization worldwide. But what if this sense of mobilities is in fact an ideological bubble that provides the illusion of freedom whilst limiting our mobility or even keeping us immobile? This book reviews the strengths and weaknesses of the mobilities paradigm and in doing so constructs a bridge between Marxism and Cultural theory.
Show Summary Details
This content is available to you

Chapter 1: The theory of mobilities

A Critical Analysis

Maximiliano E. Korstanje


Doubtless, academicians of all the stripes were appalled by the sudden death of John Urry, who left this world on March 18, 2016. As a path-breaking thinker and an authorative voice in the field of sociology, Urry not only devoted his life and career to the study and understanding of mobilities, editing during the years one of the most salient journals (Mobilities) together with Kevin Hannam and Mimi Sheller, but he also laid the foundations toward a new ways of interpreting sociology in a run-away world. We strongly believe that the best way of paying homage to his legacy consists in placing his arguments under the critical lens of scrutiny, focusing on the strengths and weakness of the mobility paradigm. Needless to say, this book does not focus entirely on Urry's legacy, simply because the theory of mobilities was only one of the themes this prolific writer addressed. Rather, the present research centers on the conceptual limitations found in the theory of mobilities to understand an ever-changing society. Neither a biography of Urry nor a direct attack on those sociologists who continued his efforts as their starting point of research, this book discusses critically the mobility paradigm as an ideological construction, which is discursively fabricated by the elite to delineate the epistemological borders of reality and fictionality.

As the previous backdrop, the theory of mobilities leads very well toward an all-encompassing narrative that combines the interplay between coaction and liberty. It is safe to say that the sense of movement that characterizes leisure travel or modern tourism has nothing to do with the real freedom hunters and gatherers enjoyed before the advance of the nation-state. As a cultural project, this is the point exegetes of mobilities glossed over; capitalism imposed a new sedentary lifestyle by the introduction of nationhood. While nation-states disciplined the ethnic minorities and nomadic groups to be geographically situated within the borders of a certain territory, a closed hermeneutics of mobility was symbolically forged. Let’s clarify that the term closed hermeneutics signals to the imposition of round-trips which always return to the same point of origin. The figure of the carousel, which is featured with animals, vehicles and airplanes, embodies perfectly the paradigm of mobilities. Children are invited to emulate a fictional travel on board of commercial airplanes or driving a car, but at the end, they will come back to the same point of departure. The same applies to modern mobilities. Even the carousel ideologically indoctrinates children to embrace the cultural values of a mobile society. Another illustrative example is the plot of the film The Island (2005) starring Scarlett Johansson and Ewan McGregor. Michael Bay, the director, toys with the belief that the sense of reality should not only remain as inexpungable for those who sacrifice their needs of discovery by the discourse of security, but also the role of leisure trips in the configuration of the secure home. Besides, The Island raises the question of the problematic nature between the original and its copycat, which paves the way for the rise of emergent discussions on free-will. Nonetheless, because of time and space issues, we will not discuss Bay’s work here in this introductory chapter; instead, we will review with accuracy the advances of the mobility paradigm over recent decades as well as the main conceptual limitations the theory left open. Hence the present chapter attempts to fulfil these gaps by posing a complementary stance that explains the intersection of mobilities with a globalized multiculturalism which is rechanneled toward consumption.


To some extent, it is important to say that the concept of mobilities seems to be very hard to grasp. Such a term not only has become a buzzword widely adopted within the main academic disciplines, but has also seriously affected the consolidation of unified definitions in respect of what being mobile means. This moot point is accompanied by the idea that mobilities gained positive publicity since it is associated with affirmative values such as progress, a good life, being open-minded, pluralism and knowledge. The popular parlance falls in a tautology in surmising that the current lifestyle of consumption in capitalist societies is better than other forms of organization. As a neologism, the mobilities-related paradigm has opened a new debate with its supporters and detractors and of course we explore part of these studies building a bridge between Marxists and the Lancaster School.

Far from reaching some consensus, there are some discrepancies within academy with respect to the nature of mobilities, which merits discussion. While detractors emphasize mobilities as an instrument of alienation, which is imposed through mass consumption (MacCannell 1973; 1976; 1992; 2002; 2011; Virilio 1997; 2005a; 2010; Augé 2008), in the opposite direction proponents suggest that the paradigm of mobilities represents the success of a global order, where the technological breakthroughs not only expanded the life expectancy but also substantially changed the quality of life (Vannini and Williams 2009; Vannini 2012; Bissell 2010). It is vital to remind readers in this respect Urry alerted on the ambiguous nature of mobilities that fostered an individual behavior, while producing an extension of proper body in the quest of an emancipatory escapement toward the roads. In his analysis of automobiles, Urry recognizes that mobilities certainly open the doors to the expansion of speed but at a higher cost since the self throws away the keys to its freedom. To set an example, the industry of cars has grown exponentially year on year, replacing other forms of movements such as the train or public transport. This suggests that “automobility is thus a system that coerces people into an intense flexibility” (Urry 2004, p. 28), albeit it liberates the power of eyes to subordinate aesthetically the landscape. As a source of freedom, citing Urry’s terms, automobility facilitates drivers to move elsewhere but they are always limited in a system of roads and ways, which are prefixed in favor of a structure of auto-space. To put things in other terms, Urry defines automobility as a Frankenstein-created monster which paradoxically emancipates drivers to new sensations and landscapes but constrains them into specific time-compressed ways (Urry 2004).

This raises two more important questions which guide the present book: how mobile are we? and, is modern mobility a real form of displacement?

The advance of modernity brought radical changes not only in the means of production but also in the patterns of consumption as never before. The modern industrial world successfully monopolized the exploitation of the workforce at the time all cultural values were subordinated to a new matrix, which is based on gazing. For Urry and his supporters, mobilities and the tourist gaze are inextricably intertwined. This brings two important assumptions into the foreground. On one hand, it is unquestionably the fact that the number of journeys are annually been triplicated worldwide, in which case tourism and hospitality have to be situated as the main industries worldwide. On another, travel time has notably shortened in view of faster means of transport. As Urry noted, we start from the premise that in this mobile world, where we live, mobilities has enthralled as the main cultural value of capitalism. In this vein, understanding how social cohesion works in an ever-changing society seems to be one of the chief concerns that motivate Urry in his investigation.

The analogy of gaze, which is borrowed from the medical discourse, is used by Urry as a tug-of-war in a long-dormant debate that spotlighted the arrival of a new aesthetic reflexibility. While gazing supposes the introduction of recent psychological needs, Urry adds, no less true is that doctors revise their patients to find a problem, a pathology that should be first diagnosed and corrected. Since the medical eye starts from the principle of scarcity by offering a solution, the same applies for modern societies, where gazing reproduces the social background monopolizing vision in the control of the surrounding environment. In order for the state to propose a cure, the medical gaze should perform its task with efficacy and efficiency. It reminds that the pathology, which means deviation from normalcy, should be identified and eradicated for the body as restore balance. That way, Western societies accept “ocular-centrism” as surveillance of the external world. The same inclination to gaze, which prompted the rise of capitalism, played a crucial role in the control of epidemics and illness. While traveling, we watch others and in doing so we control them, but paradoxically we are the object of desire for others. Urry held the thesis that we often travel to watch and everything we watch becomes our individual possession. All these practices, Urry adheres, are systematically orchestrated according to a much deeper cultural matrix that precedes the well-functioning of a productive system. Hence Urry invites readers to an epistemological debate when he writes that understanding how these gazes function is a good way to expand the current comprehension of society. The current crisis of social sciences to overcome the obstacles left by positivism and phenomenology comes from the needs of creating an all-pervading model that explains how society functions. To wit, the self is torn between respect for rules and the needs of escapement, which revitalize the psychological frustrations during working time. Although tourism is defined as a modern phenomenon, he acknowledges that the tourist gaze expropriates the alterity framing it in specific forms of socialization. Paradoxically, this creates a complex network of signs and discourses aimed at interpreting what is watched (Urry 2002; 2003; 2007; Larsen et al. 2007; Larsen and Urry 2011).

As the previous argument given, Urry contends that despite the growth in the number of travels throughout the globe, mobilities rests on contrasting asymmetrical tendencies where some first class travelers are freely welcomed but others not. This means that tourists are legally encouraged to visit other zones whereas other travelers are jailed and deported. Equally important, some developed nation-states recently tightened the surveillance-centered technologies and disciplinary mechanisms of control at their borderlands. He emphasizes the fact that almost 600 million arrivals are annually estimated in which case it denotes a rise in tourist movements, but at the same time, more than 23 million refugees and asylum seekers stroll around the globe without any specific shelter or home. This happens not only because the concept of mobilities alludes to much deeper mechanisms of political dominance, which are encapsulated on an aesthetic modernity but also because tourism seems to be associated with a saturation of landscapes that meets a new type of psychological need: the curiosity for novelty. To put this in slightly different terms, in a postmodern society which is characterized by the codominance of spectacle and multiculturalism, nation-states delineate new borders toward a global form of identity (Urry 1988; 1999).

In his book co-authored jointly with Scott Lash (Economies of Signs and Spaces, Lash and Urry 1993), Urry overtly said that cultures, customs, experiences and persons are exchanged as commodities within a market-place which endorses signs to the consumed products. In sharp contrast with MacCannell, Lash and Urry believe that the needs of stimulating mobilities stem from a quest for novelty and happiness that is fostered by “the urgency for rediscovery”. The former ways of accumulation proper to industrialism set the pace for new novel dynamics, where nations reinvent their identities to generate emotional commitment. Likewise, one might speculate that curiosity engages with the cultural construction of the tourist gaze, but Lash and Urry take distance from MacCannell’s argumentation. Instead of approaching the theme from a structualist viewpoint, they opt for a micro-sociology, which is inscribed in the self’s biography. In fact, the structure of self, methodologically speaking, bespeaks of an internalization of traits, stereotypes, hopes, experiences and beliefs finely-ingrained within a precedent mega-structure that may be inferred by the fieldworker. As Lash and Urry already lamented, the subjective experiences of tourists are not only part of a broader macro-social mobile background, but also they transform the day-to-day life for consumers. This is the reason why tourism recycles citizens’ frustrations into commoditized forms of cultural entertainment. In this process, the sense of attraction and attractiveness are vital forces that determine what destination is desirable and what is avoided. Without doubt, we must interpret the evolution of mobilities as the result of modern culture, which framed in global multiculturalism offers a fertile ground for sign-exchange. Equally important, societies in the world should be catalogued into two contrasting poles; high and low-mobilities societies. While the former experienced faster development, which resulted from the expansion of technologies and mobilities, the latter conserved more traditional forms of organizations and economies. In this respect, they lament that in hyper-mobile cities, cars and the mass transport system eroded the trust of citizens for their institutions, producing a great gap which alienates citizens instilling a broader sentiment of impotence. Once again, Urry and Lash brilliantly realize how the trajectory of goods (exchange) and humans has inevitably generated an empty space affecting not only the sense of reciprocity but blurring the geographical boundaries of space.

Still further, postmodern economies are coupled to an economy of signs, which blurring the marks in the soil, subordinate history to the monopoly of globalized allegories. Over recent years, tour operators have re-drawn the globe as mediators between the self and their future experience. This not only is a consequence of the surfacing tensions between experts and lay people, but of the standardization of emotions and the homogenization of tourist experience. Instead of visiting destinations by word-of-mouth recommendations, tourists are discursively disciplined by tour operators who suggest which the preferable destinations are and what should be left behind. As Lash and Urry stated, the question whether travelers in former centuries were induced by novels, books or other texts, in the way digital technologies are used by tour operators to give alternatives for travels. However, far from being broader forms of movement, they are enclosed in stereotyped patterns of consumption. It is not surprising that the nation-state legitimates the right of travel agents to forecast a risky situation with the end of anticipating a fresh solution. Risk plays a pervasive role because on one hand it confers further legitimacy to specialists, but on the other it poses as a vehicle of communization. Experts, in this token are interpreters for lay people to keep their trust in social institutions. In effect risks are previously perceived through the cognitive framework built by experts. If times have changed, the consumers today appeal to more selective forms of consumption than in other decades. The tourist gaze rests on the coalescence of three factors such as: the re-enchantment of consumption, the time–space dimension, and visual or performing arts. Therefore, travels re-symbolize spaces at the time they are transformed into commodities. The potential consumers, tourists, are bombarded with images, advertising and visual stimuli to interpret these landscapes in a specific way. The decentralized control of space is accompanied with the need to solicit credit to international organisms of financial aid. These policies reinforce the already-existent dependency between the services industry and the state. While the world is polarized in safe and dangerous places, the flow of capital prompts decentralized and more deregulated forms of authorities where domesticated zones, which attract the major proportion of tourists, are pitted against wild zones widely depicted as backward spaces of conflict (Lash and Urry 1993).


Although some scholars surmise that Marxism has notably influenced Urry's development from the onset, nothing is further from the truth. Marxists, as pure materialists, do not believe in the power of agency to transform the structure or in the emphasis put on culture that remains as the touchstone of alienation and reification. Those who pay attention to his first works will realize that a whole part of his argumentation stems from the contributions of Jean Baudrillard. This French philosopher amalgamated an interesting combination of two prominent figures of social sciences, Max Weber and Friedrich Nietzsche. What is important to note is that Baudrillard was a pioneer in anticipating the advance of a new postmodernism that packages reality into the framing of symbols and signs. One of his main contributions to the present understanding of capitalism consists in outlining the fact that products are systematically designed and fabricated by a global economic matrix that homogenizes cultures and customs into pre-existing portraits. At the same time, these commodities are consumed at an extemporal market where the borders between space and time are diluted. This affects not only the attachment to tradition but also how the sense of future is imagined. In postmodernism the future rules, in a way that things in the present never take place. Baudrillard exerts a radical criticism on the precautionary principle which arrived in Europe in the end of 1970s. This doctrine focused on the possibility of preventing risks before they really happen. As Baudrillard laments, imaging facts earlier than they occur leads to the subordinating reality in the basis of a pseudo-reality. The steps in the present are guided by things which are not happening but only in our imagination. In other words, the idea of the present will not only be subordinated to the future, but also identities will be constructed according to a sign-value exchange. Through the screens postmodernism replicates a new climate of spectacle which is based on image and simulation (Baudrillard 1981; 1983; Baudrillard and Evans 1991).

The same cultural changes vaticinated by Baudrillard retain some concern in Urry, who argues convincingly that the patterns of holiday-making which were proper of industrialism set the pace for new models of cultural consumption. In a well-read paper published in the prestigious British journal Theory, Culture & Society, Urry (1988) acknowledges that tourism is a vital force for industrialism simply because it represents the development of leisure, as integrally bound to “paid-work”. Starting from the premise that the paid work is the precondition for tourism, Urry adheres to the thesis that tourism in popular seaside resorts is changing to a “contemporary tourism”, which expresses the rise of a post-industrial society. Equally important, his main thesis is that if the classic tourist experience born in the 19th century was reached at the time the site was visited, the postmodern tourists replicate countless experiences by the articulation of fabricated scenes which are replicated by digital technology over and over again. In this vein, Urry goes on to write:

The post-tourist is freed from the constraints of simply high culture on the one hand, or the untrammelled pursuit of the pleasure principle on the other. He or she can move easily from one to the other and indeed to gain pleasure from the connection between the two. The world is a stage and the post-tourist can delight in the multitude of games that can be played. When the miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower is purchased, it can be simultaneously enjoyed as a piece of kitsch, an exercise in geometric formalism, and as a socially revealing artefact. (Urry 1988, p. 38)

Though citing MacCannell and his development in the fields of industrialization-auratic sphere, Urry confronts with the idea that postmodernism represents really an “anti-auratic force”, where experiences are systematically replicated accordingly to a cultural matrix that makes from nostalgia, which is understood as the frenetic quest for past experiences, the main narrative of capitalist consumption. Urry, citing Baudrillard, assertively holds:

My claim here is that the service class comprises a set of powerful yet relatively unanchored social grouping, which has begun to impose its framework upon much of the wider society, and hence its distinction of taste have become highly significant for other classes and social groups. (Urry 1988, p. 41)

As it was originally formulated by Bourdieu, while the classic holiday-makers moved for reaching a space of socialization, a mark of taste or social status determined by the social capital, the sites of cultural tourism exhibit the opposite. Urry trivializes the role of “staged-authenticity and the sacredness” as the pillars of postmodern tourism. Rather, he claims that all objects and auratic landscapes have been irreversibly governed by the tourist gaze:

All Towns and cities have thus become potential objects of the tourist gaze sensitized to quantification. Seaside resorts thus suffer both from the ubiquitous emergence of potential competitors and from the fact that often they lack the interesting streets and buildings, particularly from the manufacturing past. (Urry 1988, p. 53)

To cut the long story short, the radical rupture with MacCannell (1976; 2001; 2011) occurs in two clear senses. On one hand, Urry places the dichotomy between totemism-tourism left by MacCannell under the critical lens of scrutiny. On another, Urry clarifies that traditional tourism, which ignited a temporal break between the city and rural zones, will be replaced by a lifestyle where tourists will visit densely populated cities.

After further review, neither MacCannell nor Urry, through their established academic rivalry, grasp the nature of tourism as a rite of passage aimed at revitalizing the frustrations given in working days (Korstanje and Busby 2010). Although MacCannell (1976) envisages wholeheartedly tourism as an alienatory mechanism of control oriented to prevent social change, he mistakenly defines tourism (like Urry) as an industrial phenomenon surfaced in-between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As Korstanje puts it, postmodern sociologists cultivated a negative image of tourism as limited to paid holidays or paid work glossing over the plenty of evidence allocated in ancient history, which proves how ancient civilizations such as Assyrians, Sumerians and Romans developed a similarly viewed notion of tourism. The history witnesses how imperial structures developed the other-centered paradigm not only to expand the economy beyond its borders, but also to subordinate other resources to the hegemonic imperial productive system. The idea of an alterity, which inhabits in remote lands and deserves to be disciplined, is one of the ideological narratives that cultivate the curiosity for the otherness while the conquest is legitimized. To a greater or lesser degree, these imperial machines historically made from travels the main conduits to explore and dominate the periphery at their discretion. Therefore it is safe to say that tourism seems to be the maiden of empires (Korstanje 2015a; Korstanje and George 2015; Korstanje and Seraphin 2017). To wit, Jost Krippendorf has pivoted an interesting step in this direction when he confirms that all human organizations from its days as a sedentary culture appealed to movement and leisure travels to alleviate the frustrations their citizens faced. Indeed, this happens because tourism should be understood as a mechanism of escapement, which is regulated by the needs of entertainment and relaxation. Each society, therefore, develops its own type of tourism or leisure activities, where travels play a vital role in placing the self asunder from the rule. Such a rupture between normalcy and the outstanding should be temporarily achieved in order for the self to be selfishly regenerated. While touring, lay citizens not only are embracing the cultural values, which constituted their societies, but they are ideologically validating its mainstream cultural values such as labor, democracy or free speech (Krippendorf 1982; 1986; 1987a; 1987b). Likewise, Urry did not pay heed to the politics of tourism, which evinces how those holiday-makers are indeed ambassadors and representatives of their respective states. Indistinctively, modern or postmodern citizens often launch to visit distant and far-away cultures for something other than curiosity as Urry precludes. At the site tourists revalidate their sentiment of belonging to the values that constituted nation-states as democracy or labor. Anthropologically speaking the alterity interrogates the self, highlighting in all lacks and scarcities each side has, at the time proper values are reconfirmed in view of the problems the other side shows. In a recent book, entitled The Rise of Thana Capitalism and Tourism, Korstanje (2016a) calls for the attention on the emergence of a new stage of production in capitalism, where the others’ death plays a vital role as mediator between citizens and their institutions. This is not limited to dark or Thana tourism where Korstanje starts from, but it is applied to all institutions and a broader specter of cultural entertainment, where death is the most commonly traded commodity. Beyond what the current literature suggests, Korstanje adds, tourists in dark sites are seeking to affirm their privileged status as First World citizens; instead of being concerned by the poverty or the pain of those who have lost everything in post-disaster contexts, dark tourists are embedded into a narcissist character. The fact seems to be that, as rite of passage, tourism emulates a selfish escapement to affirm the own status disposing of the locals to remind how specially gifted the tourist is (Korstanje 2016a).

For better or worse, Urry wholeheartedly devoted considerable time and effort in laying the foundations toward the construction of an epistemology, which helps understanding the complexity of an aesthetic modernity that defied the classic paradigms in sociology. In his analysis, tourism is defined as something different from a native activity like in Boorstin (1961) or an alienated consumption as it was formulated by MacCannell (1976). To some extent, Urry deserves considerable attention and recognition by escaping to the conspirational studies, which blame the elite from every ills and vices of the world or one-sided theories that adjust to what popular parlance wants to hear. Doubtless, the tourist gaze evinced a novel trend in tourism consumption, which can be observed in other spheres of public life as well. In the next section we shall discuss critically a manuscript Urry published a couple of years later, which focused on the intricacies of the tourist gaze with the environment.


Truthfully, the industries of tourism and hospitality have experienced a notable growth over recent decades as many economists and academicians observed (Oh 2005; Ivanov and Webster 2013; Tang and Tan 2015; Bojanic and Lo 2016). While tourism has been placed as one of the most important industries of the world no less true is that the untrammelled acceleration of consumption, which adjoined to ecological problems caused by the saturation of the carrying capacity of the destination, explains at least the concerns in experts and policy makers for ecology. The paradigms of sustainable tourism or green tourism are originally aimed at coordinating efforts not only to pose a rational program to reverse the unexpected consequences of unregulated tourism but also to protect the environmental resources that act as the oxygen for the activity (Bramwell 2015; Bramwell and Lane 2013; Mowforth and Munt 2015). Notwithstanding, the justified worries for ecology and the potential effects of tourism seem not to be new. In one of his earlier papers, entitled “The tourist gaze and the environment,” Urry (1992) describes the implication of mass tourism in the physical environment as the convergence between gazing and aesthetics; the tourist gaze advances through the soil consuming everything in its path. Still further, Urry claims, tourism has become a thriving industry, which resulted from a combination of various factors such as the technological innovation in transport means, the widespread construction of tourist destinations and radical shifts in the culture of entertainment. As stated, the growth of tourism not only impacted negatively in the local communities but also engendered serious ecological issues that called the attention of experts and policy makers. Urry, in this token, sheds light on this in the following quotation:

Reading nature is therefore something that is learned; and the learning process varies greatly [in] different societies and between different social groups within any society. Of course, there are environmental disasters but they are relative to a particular configuration of a society and its environment. Configuration here refers both to the relationship between a society and its environment, and to the manner in which this difference is culturally constructed within that environment. (Urry 1992, p. 2)

It is worthwhile to note that the above citation corresponds with the core concept that guides Urry’s argument. After an in-depth historical review, humankind went forward with different facets and stages of adaptancy with respect to nature and climate. Anyway, all these should be grouped into four clearly identified subtypes, stewardship, exploitation, scientifization and visual consumption.

The stage of stewardship refers to an economical form of subsistence where the land is inherited from generation to generation living within a delimited zone. Whenever the sense of instrumentality was introduced in the economy, humankind changed to a new stage of exploitation, which was characterized by the expropriation of local resources in the quest for profits. Later, the process of scientifization signaled to the environment as an object of study, or scientific inquiry, where the rational logic should be evoked to intervene in cases of unexpected aftermaths. The figure of science as an ally toward a better life makes an appearance as long as this phase. Lastly, Urry defines the visual consumption as a new trend born in an aesthetic force that reproduces landscapes only to be gazed. What distinguishes this facet from the rest is the introduction of a logic of embellishment where the self is embedded with global fabricated realms. Here is where the concept of landscape as a tourist attraction emerges.

Everyone in the West is now entitled to engage in visual consumption, to appropriate landscapes and townscapes more or less anywhere in the world, and to record them to memory photographically. No one should be excluded except for reasons of costs. To be a tourist, to look on landscapes with interest and curiosity … has become a right of citizenship from which few in the West are formally excluded. (Urry 1992, p. 4)

Following with this development, Urry doubles the bet at emphasizing that we witness a democratization of the tourist gaze as a disruptive dynamic that destroys the tenets of elitism. Thus, the tourist gaze should be understood as a part of the problem but at the same time of the solution for the ecological crisis the world faces today. While tourism allocates geographically a huge quantity of visitors, the curiosity for unpolluted zones has increased over the recent years. This suggests that future programs of green tourism would be successfully achieved in diverting the visitations toward more rural zones. The main thesis here is that the interest for emergent more sustainable tourist destinations was paradoxically derived from the uncontrolled growth of visual consumption previously orchestrated through tourism. However, no less true is that tourist gaze has formed various alternative paths to visit different places and environs. As discussed, our British sociologist contends that:

A crucial aspect of the tourist gaze is that there is a dichotomy drawn between the ordinary and extraordinary. Obviously all sort of sites/sights can be extraordinary, including places that are merely famous for being famous. But environments which are not visually distinct in some way or other are very unlikely to be consumed. But it does not follow from this that only physical phenomena possess such an aura of distinctness. (Urry 1992, p. 20)

This means that tourists are moved not only to visit landscapes, which are externally fabricated for their consumption to stimulate the needs of being or behaving temporarily different, but also the attraction should not be viewed expressly in the territory, but within the time. To put this bluntly, Urry continues a hot debate revolving around the already established concept of authenticity, which reminds us that visited environments are correctly deciphered and subsequently consumed only and only if they are framed in the correct time.

This is what people mean by authenticity, that there is a consistent relationship between the physical and built environment and a given historical period. An example of where a rural landscape does not seem authentic is where it seems too modern, too planned, lacking hedgerows, winding paths, mixed tree and plant vegetation and an element of surprise. (Urry 1992, p. 21)

To this extent, some objections should at least be heard. Our British sociologist struggles to impose a definition of the tourist gaze, which avoids the traditional conceptualizations of tourism consumption. He insists gazing is something else than a fashioned style of consuming where the tourist makes its decision over what is the preferable or more appropriate destination for its holidays. Rather, it is important not to lose sight that the tourist gaze, as it was formulated by John Urry, corresponds with an all-encompassing institution culturally validated by the rise of an aesthetic capitalism, which altered not only the productive system but also how nature is conceived.

To here, we have read Urry’s insight as objectively as possible, without stressing his conceptual limitations or caveats, but a much more profound review suggests two significant points. On one hand, we are far from being mobile as Urry says simply because the right to travel is legally ensured for less than 20 percent of mankind. To what extent may we be called a mobile society when almost 80 percent of people are really strapped to immobility? The theory of mobility fails to explain why a whole portion of mankind is not encouraged to move or to travel. Instead of being an extended or democratic right, touring seems to be an exclusive right of a minority.

With over 6 billion people in the world, only 1.2 billion people flew in 2015 (figures from the World Tourism Organization UNWTO released for the 2015 period). This amount suggests that global travelers scarcely represent only 20 percent of the total population whereas the other 80 percent for other reasons are unable to travel. This begs some interesting doubts as to what extent is this indicator validating the idea of democratization of travel installed by Urry? Far from being an emancipatory force that regulates human relations, as Urry said, mobilities seem to be reserved by an elite, to say, a European elite situated at the northern hemisphere. In his book Globalization, Zygmunt Bauman (1998) adamantly criticized the sense of mobilities as a right when he lamented that only a small portion of humankind is legally encouraged to visit remote nations, and tour fascinating landscapes and cultures, while the rest of the workforce is pauperized to live with their basic needs unmet. For Bauman, in consonance with the common-thread argument in this book, the theory of mobilities glosses over the current conditions of exploitations with the idea that there are two types of mobilities, one for First World tourists and the other for workers and asylum seekers. Doubtless, globalization played a vital role not only to accelerate the exploitation of the workforce in the center and periphery but also in introducing mobilities as an idealized trophy which remains inexpungable and very hard to grasp (Bauman 1998).

On another hand, the attacks on 9/11 in New York City inaugurated a new facet of capitalism, where the means of transport, which were the symbolic bulwarks of Western civilization, were employed as real and bloody weapons. But things went from worse to worst, after ISIS declared the Jihad against leisure spots and tourist destinations, and attacks at airports (Brussels), in patriotic celebrations (Nice), or in subways (Russia) are common place. In some respect, the means of transport are being selected and used to perpetrate attacks in the exemplary centers of the West. This invites readers to think we cannot imagine mobilities without terrorism, exactly the point discussed in the next section.


On September 11, 2001 the United States experienced one of the biggest attacks in its history when four commercial airplanes were directed against civilian and military targets. The world-famous World Trade Center and the Pentagon were two of the targets Al Qaeda selected while a fourth airplane, which was known as Flight 93, was forcedly landed at Pennsylvania (Korstanje 2017). This founding event not only shocked the country but also put the entire world on alert (Yoo 2008; Howie 2011; 2012). In his recently published book, Korstanje suggests that one of the most frightening aspects of 9/11 was that terrorists abandoned the classic tactics of terror to embrace a new one, which emulated instrumentally from a marketing guidebook. This new coordinated attack represented the triumph of instrumental capitalism, where the main bulwarks of Western civilization were used as real weapons against innocent civilians. From that moment on, the icons of mobilities such as airplanes, trucks and even vehicles have become weapons that confront mobilities, which operate within capitalist societies. 9/11 inaugurated a new epoch where hospitality as well as the alterity, which was historically the touchstone of Occident, were seriously harmed in its credibility (Korstanje 2015b; 2017). With the benefits of hindsight, Urry was not wrong when he held the thesis that terrorism in general and particular interrogated the essence and evolution of a fragmented and complex globalizing force that is fraught with faults, dividing the world in two: the safe-gates and wild-zones (Urry 2002; 2005; Sheller and Urry 2006). For the sake of clarity, he poses the theory of complexity, which per his stance, helps understanding what happened on 9/11 and the war on terror in a post-capitalist world (Urry 2002).

As the previous backdrop, Urry explores the question of September 11 as the convergence of two contrasting worlds which leads to a climate of complete and perpetual conflict and chaos. What this event reveals is the mobile character of power, which far from being fixed to a territory, goes fluidly connecting distant cities and cultures. There is a circularity of power that makes from systems unpredictable networks. While the theory of complexity signals to the end of certainty rivaling with the essence of determinism, we have to imagine this world as a new social order that is based on the complexity thesis:

Complexity also brings out how power is not a thing or a possession or a structure, rather, power flows or runs, increasingly detached from specific territory or space. Power is non-contiguous. (Urry 2002, p. 60)

Partially closer to Bauman’s insight on the liquid society, Urry toys with the idea that the discipline of punishment which historically characterized the power of the elite sets the pace to escapement, slippage, elision (p. 60) in respect of the necessary burdens the elite eludes. Doubtless, this means that traveling exhibits the new “asset of power” placing asunder the privileged classes from the rest of society. In this context, Urry adds, terrorism opens the doors to the dissociation of wild and safe zones. While the former resulted from the poorest nations, which, oppressed by globalization, failed to form a stable climate of polity where democracy prospers, the latter refers to the global exemplary cities that embraced the cultural values of global order. To put this in other terms:

Among the many effects of liberal globalization is the generation of wild zones, across the former USRR, sub Saharan Africa, the Balkans, Central America and Central Asia. These zones are places of absence, of gaps, of lack. Such zones possess weak states with very limited infrastructure, no monopoly of the means of coercion, barely functioning economies often dependent upon commodifying illegal materials, and imploded social structure and relatively limited set of connection to global order. (Urry 2002, p. 62)

As a result of this, wild-zones are fertile grounds for the emergence of charismatic leaders, who promise alternative answers to years of backward living and pauperism. Basically, these leaders direct the resentment to forge an anti-American sentiment. Most certainly, we come across gated communities, which span from airports or shopping centers to financial districts. The function of such gates is aimed at drawing the borderlands between wild and safe zones. Terrorism poses challenges on Western democratic administrations as to how an asymmetrical war can be ethically conducted. Classic wars deploy resources to kill others on behalf of states, while terrorism targets innocents and non-combatants to captivate the attention of states. In consonance with Baudrillard, Urry says that the West has collided into a merged zone, where the media has commoditized terrorism as a spectacle, circulating images and discourse of terror everywhere as a broader form of cultural entertainment. Lastly, Urry acknowledges that the global order is based on the articulation of two significant attractors: jihad and McWorld:

Existing notions of citizenship, justice and democracy are drawn into and transformed through the strange attractors of McWorld versus the Jihad. This attractor exerts an increasingly powerful gravity-effect upon very many sets of social relations. For those outside McWorld and the Jihad, the attractor polarizes the global system, forcing individuals, places and nations into one side or the other, as each reinforces and strengthens the other. (Urry 2002, p. 67)

The convergence of jihad and McWorld, following Urry, paved the way for a disordered new culture, where the end of certainty adjoins to the commoditization of risk. In a hyper-globalized world, the lines of authorities are decentered in the same manner humans are changing their patterns for war-yielding. In consequence, Urry concludes, the culture of simulation, which is enrooted in a fictional future, regulates the behaviors here in the present-time in a rarefied atmosphere where terror and unconstrained consumption converge. Despite his circularity or non-lineal style that sometimes ushers Urry into misunderstanding and confusion, many scholars adopted and widely cited his works in the order mobility paradigm conforms to a theoretical platform that consolidated a new alternative for social sciences. This moot point will be developed in the sections and chapters to come.


One of the most intriguing aspects in the sociology of John Urry was a lack of interest for discussing or at least defining further on what mobilities mean. It impeded to some extent the advance of studies and research in a similar orientation. His efforts in tracing the theory of complexity – as it was coined by Prigogine (see further in Urry 2005) – were never complemented by his followers and adherents. Basically, as Urry puts it:

Complexity thus investigates emergent, dynamic and self-organizing systems that interact in ways that heavily influence the probabilities of later events. (Urry 2005, p. 237)

In such a case, there are no clear-cut correlations between causes and effects. In consequence, minor changes induced in the past not only may provoke larger effects but also cooperate in a circular logic or instable network of living systems. Although for some traditional Marxists, Urry is inevitably on the other side of the river, Urry dialogues with Marx who is considered as one of the first economists to use the theory of complexity in his analysis of capitalism. Not only was Marx a materialist simply because he launched to examine “complex systems”, Urry says, but the ever-changing nature of capitalism needs from models that contribute in the understanding of derived contradictions and misleading results. Urry goes on to write:

According to Marx, each capitalist firm operates under non-equilibrium conditions and responds to local sources of information and opportunity. The emergent complex system results form a rich interaction of these simple elements that responds to the limited information each is presented with. Capitalists and workers act in terms of the local environment but each adapts to, or co-evolves with, these local circumstances. (Urry 2002, p. 242)

Following Urry, the duality between structure and agency was just there, in the core of Marxism and Marx’s accounts. Anyway, the relations of production operate beyond the grasp of workers, weaving a complex interaction of networks, discourses, bodies and texts, which is very hard to decipher. Though brilliantly to forecast the evolution of capitalism, Marx failed to impose a coherent framework to understand complexities as finely-ingrained within the global world, Urry finally theorizes.

It is evident that Urry focuses on the problems of uncertainty, which was incipient in capitalism from its outset, but here two assumptions should be discussed. First, our British sociologist misunderstands Marx’s original complaints revolving around the dynamics of capitalism and class struggle. Indeed, as materialists Marx enthusiastically trumpeted the main doctrines of Darwinism to delineate his epistemological borders with respect to the class struggle theory. Second, Urry trivialized the role of dialectics as the phantom that legitimates discursively workforce exploitation. To understand this better we have to review with accuracy the discussion initiated by Geoffrey Skoll in his book The Dialectics of Social Thoughts (Skoll 2014).

Doubtless, Skoll is today one of the most authorative voices in the study of epistemology and capitalism. The fact is that the workforce is subject to countless ideological dispositifs, in order for the elite to prevent social change, but to some extent, for the consumption works, it should be done within a system that makes from consumption an inexpungable force for lay citizens. Skoll argues convincingly that capitalism has been successfully expanded to other continents not only supported by colonialism but by the role of a subordinated instrument of control played by social sciences. Over years, social sciences have constructed a third object to legitimate the bourgeois rule, which is articulated by the imposition of science.

Taking his cue from the theory of reversibility left by Baudrillard’s legacy, Skoll sets forward a fresh argumentation that explains society debates around a dialectic between the agency and the collective thought. Beyond the society, the agent has no significance, while the society loses its reason to exist without human agency. What Skoll’s book discusses is the functionality of both elements to the extent to delineate their respective importance for the system. Rich people need from the low-status workers as the latter need from capital-owners. To overcome the conflicts the dialectics wake up, Skoll suggests that the social order is based, following Simmel, on a triadic nature. The process of negotiation between two or more parts alludes to the existence of a third leg where the dialectical relationship is based on negotiations.

Skoll assertively proposes that the social “thought” as a text, shed light on the world employing Hegel’s dialectic, simply because the concept of social is dialectic by its nature. Two of the senior scholars who have realized on this were Freud and Marx who have devoted considerable time and effort in deciphering the invisible ties that keep united the society. From diverse views, both acknowledged and accepted the “reification of reason” as the primary goal of social scaffolding. Though in different times, while Freud emphasized on the neurotic self-deception, Marx focused on the mystification of political economy (third-object). As the society, the constitution of self corresponds with the reification between rules and drives. The sense of ego is to Freud what capital is for Marx, Skoll eloquently adds. At a closer look, while capital plays the role of mediator between production and the workforce, the ego corresponds with the interlude between repression and reason. Although modern sociology attempted to respond to all human pathologies and vices in order to make this world a better place, no less true is that it was systemically achieved by the introduction of a third-object which acted as a mediator between two sides. To put an illustrative example, the city is seen as the recipient of urban dwellers or workers grouping in that way not only the human resources but also the means of production as well as the capital necessary for the functioning of capitalism. This raises a more than pungent question: what was the role of social science in the configuration of capitalist ideology?

With the benefits of hindsight, Skoll exerts a radical critique to social sciences to delineate the epistemological borders of a new understanding of dialectics, which escapes from the social as construal. From its onset, sociology posed the dialectics of a triadic thought to inaugurate a new “social understanding”, which was widely adopted by academicians of all stripes – from nihilism to pragmatism. Basically, what is interesting to discuss is to what extent the introduction of an inexpungable third-object (like the notion of unconsciousness has in psychoanalysis), which remains beyond human scrutiny, was historically the precondition toward the construction of reality. One of the aspects that characterized the psychoanalysis was the belief that behavior is the expression from unknown spheres of humanity, unconsciousness. Far from being subject, subject, that way, becomes in “object” to be placed under the lens of an expert’s scrutiny. The lay person is educated not to grasp the concept of the psychological self, lest through the action of a professional psychologist or therapists. This type of commoditization – ossification – consists in getting away the autonomy of agency in view of other much deeper forces. One of the success efforts of capitalism to indoctrinate workers lies in the fact that the meaning of social order was taken for granted. In doing so, two opposing poles were created while a diffuse third-object, which mediates between them, remains in the shadows (Skoll 2014). Ultimately, Skoll argues eloquently that this trick is not limited to psychoanalysis alone but it is replicated in all institutions of modern global capitalism.

Equally important, the sociology of Urry falls in a difficult axiom which tautologically is impossible to answer. We assume that this world is hyper-mobile or should be understood in that way simply because we observe that further vehicles are sold, or further tourist packages are demanded each year (Urry 2004) while in confirming our beliefs we are far from understanding the real causes of mobilities. In this vein, we feel Urry posed the cart before the horse, inasmuch as he sidestepped any endeavor to offer an epistemology of mobilities beyond the dialectics of capitalism that Skoll adamantly described. The theory of complexity, after all, is conducive to the dialectics of capital which strengthens the exploitation over workers; at the same time, capital remains out of their grasp.


If the theory of mobilities gained fame and recognition in more than two decades of theorization and research, as Hannam, Sheller and Urry (2006) confirm, no less true was that many other open questions remained open. In the first issues of Mobilities, editors fleshed out the idea that the definition of mobilities involves a vast range of topics and issues that ranged from large-scale movements to the circulation of information, capital and peoples. It is evident that the turn of the century brought many unexpected and global risks such as some lethal virus outbreaks toward natural disasters and terrorism. The flexibility enjoyed by many First World citizens to visit any part of the world was conducive to the rise of a new immobility caused by emergent apocalyptic risks which place the industry of travel and tourism in jeopardy. In this token, there is a new global order that merits further understanding and professional research. The capitalist system faces radical shifts where mobilities are the centerpiece.

Mobilities are centrally involved in reorganizing institutions, generating climate change, moving risks and illnesses across the globe, altering travel, tourism and migration patterns, producing a more connecting distant people through weak ties and so on. (Hannam et al. 2006, p. 2)

The above-cited excerpt ignites a hot debate in regards to the role of the nation-state as a safeguarder of politics and social order. The advance of globalization reconfigured the limits of a new geography, where the urban space dissociates from its historicity. The idealization of movements inscribes in a paradoxical situation. While mobilities connotes to “the rights to travel” for some citizens, others who do not meet the necessary conditions are automatically excluded. Nowadays, the mobility paradigm evinces no fewer problems to explain why part of the population is straddled to connect with the benefits of globalization (Hannam et al. 2006). Over recent decades, the introduction of high technologies for reaching some far away landscapes or spaces, which otherwise cannot be visited, alludes to virtual tourism as the main challenge of the mobility paradigm. The Internet allowed not only new forms of communication but altered the connection between space and time. An emergent field of mobilities confronts with the needs of revisiting the already-established sense of movement as dissociated from physical movement, inasmuch as the rise of disasters reminds us of the vulnerability and fragilities of the tourism industry. The agenda for applied research should include the following topics:

•   Migration, tourism and travels;

•   Virtual tourism and ethnicities molding;

•   Mobility nodes and special movements; and

•   Materialities and hybrid geographies.

The interests of sociologists for migratory fluxes or the problems migrants often experience at the borderlands are precisely pitted to the interest of tourists that are legally encouraged to move freely worldwide. In the same way, Hannam, Sheller and Urry start from the premise that mobilities should be understood as a partial project, successfully implemented in the West where global order coincides with democratic institutions, but beyond the borders of safe spaces, immobility results from the uneven power relations fleshed out by northern nations over global south. For that reason, as MacCannell (2001) puts it, one of the limitations in Urry and his followers consists not only in the lack of a rigorist approach to define the scope of what is the tourist gaze as well as more precision on how many types of gazes at the same time may coexist, but also by the emphasis put on the subjectivity of tourists.

Urry proffers the concept of tourist gaze as a way out of this dilemma. It is a singular concept that puts us directly in touch with the tourist subject; with the consumer. And even a preliminary examination of the gaze reveals it to be highly differentiated. The gaze of a tourist woman is not the same as that of a tourist man. Often they are gazing on each other. The upper classes gaze upon different things than the lower classes. (MacCannell 2001, p. 24)

In sum, MacCannell’s criticism is energetically directed against the relativism Urry cannot escape, but what is more important to the same inconsistencies found in Foucault, which were widely reviewed by postmodern sociologists. This means that while we gaze in one direction, another hidden space remains in the shadows. If Foucault defined the medical gaze as a form of ideological discourse, the same does not happen with Urry. There is no room from the hidden side unless it is reached by the gaze. In view of that, methodologically speaking, it is almost impossible to construct a theory of reification based exclusively on what tourists cognitively gaze. In this respect, MacCannell offers the possibility to imagine a second gaze that fulfils the gaps left by Urry. This kind of supra-structural gaze not only encompasses all subjective views, social backgrounds and individual stereotypes but also breaks with the alienatory nature of tourism.

The first tourist gaze has been described by John Urry. It is the gaze installed by the institutions and practices of commercialized tourism. It is fully ideological in its construction. The ideology of the first tourist gaze advances the notion of transparency of visual meaning: what you see is what you get. (MacCannell 2001, p. 35)

The second gaze goes, for MacCannell, in another direction which in Urry remains unfamiliar. Such a gaze understands that something is always missing from everything from the monopoly of the eye. In fact, this second gaze is that there are probabilities that something is hidden beyond the logic of subjectivity. As a result of this, the agency returns to the ethical liability for the configuration of an ontological experience. To put this bluntly, the second gaze calls the attention to how the attractions are fabricated and staged instead of the pleasure-maximization as Urry precludes. As a critical voice of Baudrillard, MacCannell dissects critically the principle of reversibility, which supports conceptually on Urry’s argument and the formation of the tourist gaze (MacCannell and MacCannell 1993). While MacCannell recognizes in the advance of gazing an ideological instrument to keep the workforce under control, Urry is not hesitant in admitting that it is the touchstone of a surfacing mobile society that demands a wider epistemological background that social sciences lack today. Basically, one of the chief goals of this book verses on resolving this dichotomy, evincing that likely both sides reach a partial truth.


The contributions of the mobility paradigm to resolve the original concerns formulated by founding parents turn to an interesting point of debate. Durkheim’s original worries were related to knowing how society would keep united (Durkheim 2014), while Weber (2002) did his part by exploring the role of history in the social background. From its inception, sociology inquired on the nature and evolution of industrialism as well as its effects on society. Though neither sociologists nor social scientists have taken seriously tourism or mobilities in their respective works, equally important is that the capitalist system expanded to other remote lands encompassing dissimilar forms of economic organizations in view of the transport revolution that occurred after the Second World War. Undoubtedly, as proponents of this theory admitted, social sciences have placed the mobility paradigm asunder in a marginal position over recent years. For many sociologists tourism and travels are conceived as native activities that do not deserve attention. Quite aside from this, the theory of mobilities not only offered the figure of movement as the touchstone of Western civilization, but also with the passing of time, such a conceptual corpus resonated in many fields of social sciences including sociology, geography, cultural studies, anthropology and so forth (Sheller and Urry 2006; Adey et al. 2014). This happens because Urry not only left a prolific legacy for the next generations but he achieved a steady academic platform well-known as the mobilities lab which is originally hosted by Lancaster University. In perspective, one might realize that the theory of mobilities was applied to a wide range of topics and contexts which include, for example, the war on terror and the use of biopolitics for the securitization at borderlands (Yar 2002; Diken 2004; 2011; Diken and Laustsen 2002; Bissell 2010; Walters 2016), the intersection of military-machine with transporting and mobilities in peace-times (Kaplan 2006a; 2006b; Cresswell 2006), the technological breakthroughs oriented to reproduce virtual experiences and multiple realities (Germann-Molz 2006; 2012), or even as new forms of identity toward morbid consumptions (Frenzel and Koens 2012; Tzanelli 2015; 2016; Diekmann and Hannam 2012; Tzanelli and Korstanje 2016; Freire-Medeiros 2014). Indeed interesting reflections are recently obtained from the theory of mobilities which invite epistemological discussions (Büscher and Urry 2009; Büscher et al. 2010; Adey et al. 2014).

Sheller (2004) holds the thesis that the culture of cars leads toward some alternative affective dimensions that help escape from the individualistic rationality which is part of the capitalist system, and of course social science unilaterally accepts. She argues convincingly that feelings construct an emotional embodiment which produces different cultural dispositions. While cars can be seen as simple machines that transport citizens, no less true is that the emotional background around these machines is reproduced by reasoned sensibilities that lead toward a culture of mobility. In his book Ferry Tales, one of the authorative voices of this theory, Phillip Vannini (2012) interrogates on the nature of travels as something other than a mere physical movement. The use of ethnography for these types of issues reminds not only how travels open the doors for the creation of experiences, sensations and even social imaginaries but also involves some manners to symbolically reapropriate the geographical spaces. Vannini understands that travels should be depicted as “real performances” that unilaterally exert a radical control over human behavior. Travels reproduce cultural landscapes by means of imposition of experiences, times, representations, and sensations. Mobilities should be ritualized following the concept of pilgrimages where two geographical spaces open the doors for “liminoid moments of suspension”. As Vannini puts it, we need to discuss “mobility as performance has the advantage showing us how people, places, material things, and times are actors marked by openness and change rather than boundedness and permanence and how they are constantly evolving organically” (Vannini 2012, p. 39). Over recent years, some researchers and fieldworkers questioned the current existent definitions of mobilities as forces which are often associated with moving in some direction. Hence the term mobility, in some extent, transcends the needs of traveling or physical movement in a way that sometimes it leads the self to imagine imaginary geographies without moving. There are many forms of mobilities within social imaginaries which correspond with states of consciousness that escape to interaction. Haddington, Mondada and Neville (2013) address this moot question discussing critically some of the relevant aspects of the mobility paradigm which today remain unresolved. The effects of technologies on the daily world produced many ways of being mobile that do not always relate to physical displacement. Their main upshot is that psychical displacement, although important, is not the unique criterion to define how mobility works. Technology, regardless of the goals, may encourage or discourage mobility. Stillness, as a peculiar phenomenon, ascribes to specific forms of socialization and control. As Gale (2009) proclaimed, modern tourism is experiencing disorganized forms of consumption that affect its sacred aura, which means that the notion of every-day space and pleasure periphery are being reconfigured. The virtual world not only places classic tourism in jeopardy, but also interpolates to the current leisure practices. Is this the end of tourism as we know it?

In addition, Kevin Hannam (2009) claims that the theory of mobilities should be reconsidered in view of the technical advances brought by late-capitalism. Although it was originally comprehended as a form of movement – for example among locations – which connects space with time, contemporary sociology fleshed out a new dynamic where experience articulates the conception of space. Any place is far from being a neutral construct; it rather remains interrelated in complex nets of power and meaning. The sense of mobilities not only involves various modes of representation but also relational moments which are emotionally evoked. As naturally contrasted to fixity, mobility has undermined all existing barriers to obtain a perpetual movement where, irrespective of the role, citizens are traveling worldwide. Not only academicians, but terrorists, tourists, and businessmen, even the homeless or asylum seekers are subordinated to the logic of mobilities in which case, Hannam adds, tourism should not be examined as something external to the mobilities paradigm. This is the reason why a more flexible epistemology to be adapted to global and mobile times is at least necessary. Mobile ethnographies, in consonance with Vannini’s insight, situates as the best instrument to expand the current understanding of this deep-seated issue (Hannam et al. 2014). Such a method can be applied not only to field-working on the site but to imaginary fictions such as movies and novels as well as any other imaginary mode which condenses a relational dichotomy with alterity. In sum, as Diekmann and Hannam defined:

The concept of tourism mobilities seeks to understand the connections between representations of mobilities as well as the embodied practices of mobility through transport and many forms of communication, including films. The two are not determined by each other, rather, they co-exist as relational “more-than representational mobilities”. (Diekmann and Hannam 2012, p. 1316)

May the dichotomies of mobilities be analysed using fictional movies as units of study? To what extent do these plots bespeak of our real present world?

As discussed, while Tzanelli (2016) has advanced interesting steps in examining films as a valid source of ethnography and its connection of real life, Noel Salazar coins the term “tourism imaginaries” to discuss further the formation of shared narratives that determine social consciousness. In this token, he theorizes that imaginaries are socially shared representations discursively directed to interact with the individual biographies toward complex negotiated assemblages that sooner or later are used as meaning-making. Even if imaginaries often crystalize in ethnocentric narratives or one-sided discourses where the alterity is ideologically masked, in other contexts they offer a fertile ground for new epistemological horizons for applied research (Salazar 2012a). The imaginary not only plays a vital role in the configuration of mobility, but also in the ways hegemony is articulated. Far from what the specialized literature confirms, tourist destinations are the product of the amalgam among experiences, discourses, and imaginative geographies that avoid the intervention of marketing experts. Since images are constructed, negotiated and disseminated over a considerable lapse of time, Salazar adheres to say that Western imaginaries with respect to travels, the center–periphery dependency, exploitation and other aspects of life come from a precedent of intangible history which remains inexpungable for lay people. Social scientists should devote their time to digesting the tourist imaginary as a projection of the real world. As a result of this, Salazar insists that the study of these imaginaries represents a significant advancement to decipher the reification of agency and its institutions (Salazar 2012b).


This chapter reviewed in-depth the strengths and weakness of the mobility paradigm as well as the rivalry of Marxism with Urry over the threshold of time. The fact is that the theory of mobility as it was originally coined by Urry was oriented not only to resolve the pre-existing epistemological problems within academy but also in describing substantial changes a new stage of capitalism accelerated. From this angle, Urry should be recognized as a pioneer who has envisaged the importance of travels and mobilities as the key factors toward a global capitalism. Taking his cue from Jean Baudrillard and the theory of simulacra, Urry pivoted in the construction of a paradigm that sheds light on social sciences. However, the present chapter focused on two main caveats Urry failed to resolve in his development. At a first glimpse, he never elaborated on an all-encompassing definition of mobilities beyond what he dubbed as “an aesthetic modernity”. This not only caused confusion in his followers and fueled the criticism in his detractors, but also paved the way for a fragmentation in the produced knowledge that today is very difficult to orchestrate. The different types of mobilities, scholars discuss in their works, obscure more than clarify. Second, there are serious problems with thinking of mobilities as a universal fashioned trend as Urry said, when only 20 percent of humanity has legally the right to travel. As Marxists observed, this suggests that the theory of mobility emerged as an ideological mechanism of indoctrination that is used by the elite to mask the state of exploitation the workforce faces in these grim days. Last but not least, the tourist gaze denotes certain subjectivity because each person retains their own identification and perception of the external world. As MacCannell noted, the problem of subjectivity begs the question to what extent the self constitutes or is fabricated by the pleasure-maximization process, which is enrooted in global capitalism. What are the main limitations of Urry and the mobility paradigm?

Furthermore, he describes the explosions of the means of transport where machines replaced horses or carriages pulled by tractors. Although modern tourism surfaced in the 20th century, Urry is unfamiliar with the history of civilizations. From his stance, tourism is an industrial activity, which was accelerated by the dichotomy between labor and leisure as well as the technological innovations introduced in transport systems. Like many others historians, Urry sees mobilities as the triumph of modernity and industrialism over ancient agrarian sedentary forms of organizations. One of the caveats in his insight lies in the fact that he trivializes ancient history likely because he is not fluent in Latin or his access to ancient historic archives, which would help him – as Elias did – in contemplating history as a circular instead of an evolutionary force is limited. There is sufficient archaeological evidence that suggest empires in ancient times have developed similar institutions that emulated travel as a form of escape from the humdrum routine. It is important not to lose sight that Romans used the term feriae to signal to three months of release to visit friends and relatives at the peripheries. From this word come (in German and Portuguese) Das Feriaes and Die Ferien which mean holidays. Like other empires, such as the Sumerians and Assyrians, Romans developed the institution of feriae to revitalize the psychological frustrations which occur during the working year, while the social cohesion in the periphery was strengthened. The second error in Urry’s development associates to the conception of the nation-state. Urry and his followers envisage that in the near future nation-states would be subordinated and subdued by a globalized cosmos. The historical national barriers that characterized the life in former centuries would set the pace to emergent global trends that are confronted with the legitimacy of states. However, mobilities and the nation-state are two safeguards of the capitalist system. Mobilities historically operated within the borders of nations as an ideological instrument to dissuade social conflict between classes. From its onset, hospitality and mobilities not only contributed to the expansion of European powers, but also legitimated the Conquest of Americas. As we shall discuss in the next chapters, mobilities was the stepping stone of the nation-state which subordinated dispersed and heterogeneous ethnicities into a coherent and unified object: the nationality. Once the limits of the state were imposed through the articulation of different ideological dispositifs, mobilities provided citizens with a false sense of freedom, which was recycled and rechanneled toward consumption. What remains clear is that this fabricated climate of liberty divided the world into insiders and outsiders. As a result of this, mobilities never worked in expanding the system, but it was limited as an ideological discourse to maintain the rank-and-file worker as comfortably numb. Third and foremost, capitalism starts from a vicious circle culturally originated in the colonial project. The figure of alterity was never digested by Europeaness unless by the disciplinary use of hospitality. The notion of mobilities as established to confirm the European cultural values makes subordinated nomadism into a sedentary lifestyle.

Whatever the case may be, we live in a world fraught with risks, where emotions are manipulated to gain further portions of audiences, profit maximization, or by protecting the interests of the elite. The politics of simulacra, as it was coined by Baudrillard, explains how governments appeal to emotions to impose policies that otherwise would never be accepted by lay citizens. In the mid of this mayhem, the climate of governance is based on the disciplinary mechanisms that help in controlling risks. Following the contributions of Norbert Elias, which will be detailed later, we hold the thesis that capitalism successfully forged a climate of impersonalization where emotions were subordinated to reason. It is noteworthy to mention that capitalism revolves around the mechanization of an emotional world, while there is an unnoticed dichotomy in the way the United States – following the British archetype – conducts its civilizatory process. In this chapter, we remind that the Anglo-World – unlike the ways Spain colonized the Americas – combined crueller international interventions in the periphery with a climate of prosperity and liberty in the center. This interplay between being or not mobile corresponds with an imagined world, where fear plays a vital role in constructing the barriers between the self and the otherness. In so doing, the external environment was historically portrayed as a dangerous place that is crystalized in an evident fear to the alterity. Anyway, this is a much deeper issue which deserves to be reconsidered in the chapters to come.