Thursday, 19 December 2013

Network capital, racial segregation and mobility You don't often hear reference to the concept of network capital these days, which is odd since we're now firmly embedded in a network society, like it or not. But it's reappeared in an unlikely corner. It must be fifteen years since I heard Geoff Mulgan talking about the concept, but here's Mimi Scheller describing how it was crucial to the forms of resistance to slavery in the southern US. Scheller argues that the institution of slavery can be seen as being defined 'by the exercise of control over mobility, and the immobility of an entire labour force... Almost all of the elements of network capital, ever since the founding of plantation regimes across the Americas, are more concentrated in white hands, and were denied to enslaved people and later to freed people.' She goes on to talk about how 'The production of space through racial segregation of dwelling places and neighourhoods, of private and public spaces that are racially distinguished, of transit corridors and vehicles that have segregated use of them - all of these areas which became central within US politics and governance of mobility - are arenas of racial domination, racial privilege and demands for racial justice.' Given my post-Mandela note the other day about the demographics of London bus travel, and given the whiteness of privileged forms of transport that she refers to, this seems a salient and resonant theme. Maybe it is worth reconsidering the potent 1956 image of Rosa Parks on the Montgomery bus in terms of network capital - reflecting on the fact that it was an orchestrated event, that there was a photographer and that that is a reporter sat behind her. The civil rights movement had had to fight first to establish some network capital and learned to exploit it. Mobility was a key factor in that struggle just as Mandela's immobility was a factor which worked first in the interests of, and then against, apartheid. I humbly suggest that Scheller's video might be a good use of ten minutes of your time. She was co-founder with John Urry of CeMoRe, the Centre for Mobilities Research at Lancaster, and I'm not likely to forget the privilege of having been present at their memorable launch conference in about 2005.

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