Mobilities in contemporary worlds of work and organizing


Within the globalised ‘network society’ (Castells, 2001), demands for mobility and movement have become predominant aspects of contemporary social life (Bauman, 2007; Boltanski and Chiapello, 2005; Cresswell, 2006; Urry, 2007). Exerting an influence upon different social spheres, these demands have transformed the traditional relations of the realms of government and economy, the public and private, and work and life (Cohen et al., 2015; Donzelot and Gordon, 2008). In particular, present-day governmental programmes refer to and evoke discourses around free and unconstrained movements, forms of work and careers (Baerenholdt, 2013). These discourses promote the mobilisation and activation of working subjects and their human capital (Chertkovskaya et al., 2013; Costas, 2013; Foucault, 2008) as well as, more generally, the mobilisation of production, consumption, and communication in all sorts of social networks (Corbett, 2013; Elliott and Urry, 2010; Land and Taylor, 2010).

This, however, does not mean that contemporary society, informed by ‘a more “networked” patterning of life’ (Hannam et al., 2006: 2), is simply composed of permanent flows and movements (Knox et al., 2008). Movements of people remain restricted in various ways, for example through the requirements of migration policies whereby visas, passports and permissions to migrate perform the function of regulating international movements (Urry, 2007). Even if discourses of free movement and mobilisation dominate within western society, free and autonomous movements and thus ‘boundaryless lives and careers’ are not fully sustained by current governmental policies and programmes, which might be more constraining and conservative than they purport. Put differently, ‘sticky connections’ (Knox et al., 2008: 885) still exist within the globalised network society as governmental programmes tend to operate through both fixation and mobilisation and, therewith, practices of territorialisation and practices of deterritorialisation, going beyond extant boundaries (e.g., of the nation-state, particular institutions or professions) (Bauman, 2007; Bigo, 2006; Urry, 2007; see also Christensson, this issue). Certain ambiguities and frictions are hence immanent within contemporary modes of government: while the mobilisation and empowerment of working subjects are broadly promoted and idealised (Costas, 2013; Presskorn-Thygesen, this issue), current governmental policies structure and regulate the movements and, more generally, the space of autonomy and freedom of individuals and groups of individuals according to very particular interests (Baerenholdt, 2008; Foucault, 2008). From a governmental point of view, it is not a matter of allowing completely unforeseen, incalculable and thus non-territorialisable forms and practices of mobility (Söderström et al., 2013). It is rather a very specific form of (‘desirable’) mobility that is politically promoted and sustained (see also Urry, 2007).

Given the prevalence of the phenomenon of mobility and its governmental regulation and administration, it is unsurprising that in recent years mobility and movement have attracted the attention of researchers within the social sciences, especially within the fields of mobility studies (e.g. Baerenholdt, 2013; Cresswell, 2006; Urry, 2002, 2007) and migration studies (e.g. Brickell and Datta, 2011; Favell et al., 2007; Munck, 2008). With the growing body of both conceptual and empirical work on mobility, mobility studies researchers as well as scholars from other social science disciplines have been contributing to the so-called ‘mobility turn’, referring to the economic and social world as being above all defined and driven by movement, flow and dynamic connections (Sheller and Urry, 2006; Urry, 2007; see also Castells, 2001; Wajcman and Rose, 2011). Among other things, advocates of this ‘turn’ have interpreted the emergence of global ‘cosmopolitanization’ (Urry, 2007: 5), mass geographical mobilities and, more broadly, a ‘world on the move’ as indicators of a fundamental redefinition of established social, political and economic structures and relations (Beck and Sznaider, 2006; Beck, 2007). In this context, Sheller and Urry (2006) and Urry (2007) speak about the emergence of a ‘new mobile sociology’ and a ‘new mobilities paradigm’, based on mobile practices, relations and a language of mobility, rather than on territorially fixed societies, subjects and structures (Szerszynski and Urry, 2006). This new paradigm of mobile systems – and in particular the intellectual project pursued within the field of mobility studies – emphasise that mobility does not only constitute one aspect of contemporary social life but a ‘general principle of modernity’ (Kesselring, 2006: 270) that has become ‘crucial in securing social relations’ (Baerenholdt, 2013: 30). From this background, the study of mobility/ies can no longer be limited to a focus on the physical movements of individuals or subjects only. Rather, the notion of mobility covers a much broader terrain as it refers to and includes ‘the actual and potential movement and flows of people, goods, ideas, images and information from place to place’ (Jensen, 2011: 256; see also Cresswell, 2006; Hannam et al., 2006).

Concerned with the societal implications of mobility, mobility studies commonly link mobility and movement to broader sociological questions addressing, for instance, western governmentality, power relations, social stratification and the opportunities and capabilities to access mobility (e.g. Baerenholdt, 2013, Cresswell, 2006; Urry, 2007). Mobility studies researchers point out that mobility cannot be separated from issues of social inequality, inclusion/exclusion, rights and democracy (Richardson and Jensen, 2008). When considered at the level of individuals, this raises questions about ‘which (im)mobility for whom and when’ (Jensen, 2011: 257). Specific forms of mobility are thereby related to the distribution of life-chances. As Urry (2007: 51-52), for example, argues in relation to ‘unforced movement’: ‘to be able to move (or to be able to voluntarily stay still) is for individuals and groups a major source of advantage’. In this sense, mobility is inherently political (Baerenholdt, 2013). It may constitute a privilege for those who can make choices regarding whether to move or not, but it may also create a normalised and normalising pressure to move along recognised paths for others. In fact, the exclusion of some groups combined with the normalisation of those who are included has been defined as a new ‘diagram of power’ that characterises the contemporary western world of organizing (Bigo, 2006).

Mobility as a complex modern phenomenon

Beyond the field of mobility studies extant analyses of the processes, experiences and implications of mobility have mainly placed emphasis on the physical or geographical dimension of individual-related mobility (Cerdin and Selmer, 2014; Cohen, 2010; Costas, 2013). Migration studies, for instance, often focus on the physical movements and migration experiences of so-called low skilled/low paid migrants and/or ‘the global elites’ (e.g. Favell et al., 2007; Munck, 2008). Analogously, research in management and organization studies (MOS) addressing forms and types of mobile work has typically explored geographical mobility in the context of precarious, disadvantaged workers (e.g. Garsten, 2008) or with regard to the so-called ‘kinetic elite’, representing a privileged group of contemporary mobile knowledge workers (Costas, 2013).

In contrast, this special issue draws inspiration from the field of mobility studies (e.g. Baerenholdt, 2013; Sheller and Urry, 2006; Urry, 2007), and explores mobility beyond a focus on individuals’ geographical movements only. Considering mobility as a complex ‘modern phenomenon’ (Jensen, 2011), it creates a space for investigating and discussing different forms and dimensions of mobility, such as physical, temporal, social, economic and symbolic (Urry, 2007). A particular ambition of this special issue is to problematise simplistic assessments of mobility with regard to how it pertains to work by offering a diverse and complex portrayal of it, its interwoven dimensions and the advantages, potentialities, frictions, precarities and ambivalences to which it gives rise. By putting emphasis on the ambiguities that are concomitant with mobility and movement, and with regard to work- and profession-related demands in particular, the issue seeks to move the discussion beyond the either/or opposition of choice and necessity (Al Ariss et al., 2012).

In what follows, we first address different mobility forms (Ackers, 2005; Favell et al., 2007) and dimensions of mobility, and discuss how these interlink and interweave (Jensen, 2011; Urry, 2007). With reference to extant MOS (e.g. Cohen, 2010; Costas, 2013; Garsten, 2008) and work and career studies (e.g. Al Ariss and Crowley-Henry, 2013; Hall, 1996), we then critically discuss the opposition of mobility as autonomous choice and/or externally imposed demand. We thereby argue for an understanding of mobility that questions simplistic, dualistic assumptions about mobility, and instead considers complexities and frictions as inscribed in contemporary demands for and practices of mobility and movement. Following that we introduce the contributions to the special issue that, while addressing different dimensions of mobility, all evoke mobility/ies as ambiguous social and discursive constructs and phenomena. We conclude the editorial with some reflections on future research exploring how current mobility demands can affect and shape the organization of work, career and life.

Forms and dimensions of mobility

Mobility and movement are not completely new phenomena but have, for a long time, shaped the life of certain groups of individuals (e.g. academics and artists) (Loacker and Śliwa, 2015; see also Rodda, this issue). In recent years, however, forms of mobility seem to have become more diverse, diffuse and complex (Kim, 2009, 2010). Consequently, it is increasingly difficult to uphold clear and firm distinctions, e.g. between mobility and migration, temporary and long-term migration, or national and transnational movements (Ackers, 2005; Cohen, 2010; Urry, 2002).

Forms of mobility and movement have been extensively discussed by migration studies scholars, both at a macro- and micro-level. Traditionally, migration studies research has focused on the investigation of international movements and migration experiences (e.g. Favell et al., 2007; Munck, 2008). More recently, migration studies work has however challenged the privileging of international over intra-national movements, for instance through addressing questions of translocalism (Brickell and Datta, 2011; Greiner and Sakdapolrak, 2013) and exploring the interplay of mobility and fixity (McMorran, 2015; Rogaly, 2015). The notion of translocalism extends our thinking about migration in that it is interested in all forms of migration, whereby ‘translocal geographies are multi-sited and multi-scalar without subsuming these scales and sites within a hierarchy of the national or global’ (Brickell and Datta, 2011: 16; see also Daskalaki, 2012). This shift in the understanding of migration has opened up possibilities for exploring the significance of different forms of movement at the level of those who are mobile. Here it has been pointed out that from the perspective of an individual, the experience of international migration might be considered as being of lower significance than movements within national borders (Rogaly, 2015). Further, throughout an individual’s life trajectory, periods of movement can be interspersed with periods of fixity, developing into a pattern that Ackers (2005) refers to as ‘serial migration’. Indeed, fixity and mobility can occur simultaneously; individuals who are viewed as immobile at one scale, for example with regard to their employment prospects, can at the same time be considered mobile at another scale, for example in relation to their home and family situation (McMorran, 2015). With these insights, migration studies point to the complexity of understanding the multifaceted types, forms and implications of movement and migration.

Forms of mobility and movement have further been discussed within the field of mobility studies (e.g. Elliott and Urry, 2010; Urry, 2002). Here authors distinguish between different forms of movement and travel, such as homeless travel, discovery or tourist travel, medical travel, military travel, business travel, as well as work-related travel (Urry, 2007). They emphasise that the social life and relations of those ‘being on the move’ are shaped by different dimensions of mobility. In particular, mobility studies researchers argue that for a comprehensive conceptualisation of mobility it is crucial to conceive it as irreducible to its physical, geographical dimension; i.e. as encompassing merely the movement from one location to another. In other words, scholars underline that mobility is not just a pure and unmediated movement, but a culturally mediated form of movement that is imbued with meaning. As Adey (2010: 35) puts it, ‘to ignore the way movement is entangled in all sorts of social significance is to simplify and strip out the complexity of reality as well as the importance of those meanings’. Further, mobility studies scholars stress that the imperative to move geographically is interwoven with other dimensions of mobility that constitute important sociological interests – professional, income, educational and social mobility – which can manifest in both upwards and downwards movements (Sheller and Urry, 2006; Urry, 2007). Moreover, mobility involves a temporal (e.g. Rosenfeld, 1992), psychological (e.g. Arthur and Rousseau, 1996) as well as bodily and emotional (e.g. Conradson and Mckay, 2007; Huopalainen, this issue) dimension. Finally, mobility needs to be understood as having a symbolic importance in that it might be perceived and imagined as relevant and desirable by individuals who, regardless of actually engaging in mobility practices, may consider it as a potentiality (Baerenholdt, 2013; Jensen, 2011). While at first glance the symbolic meaning of mobility might not be as obvious as its other dimensions, it should not be underestimated. It has been observed that this potential can turn into a normative demand that may result in self-defeating outcomes for individuals holding the power to be mobile. Mobility thereby ‘becomes unforeseeable and distractive, always presenting the limitless possibilities never possible to accomplish’ (Baerenholdt, 2013: 27; see also du Plessis, this issue).

The different dimensions of mobility and the ways in which they intersect are explored by the contributions included in this special issue. For example, Neiterman, Salmonsson and Bourgeault, in their analysis of the processes of othering and feelings of belonging among medical professionals, show how geographical migration triggered by the desire to improve their economic and/or political situation involves an ongoing process of negotiation and struggle as individuals experience downwards mobility in terms of their professional and social status. On a related note, Presskorn-Thygesen shows that even members of the so-called kinetic elite do not necessarily associate geographical mobility with social and economic upwards movements, but rather portray work-related mobility as an aspirational yet oftentimes ambiguous practice and experience. In Küpers’ contribution, special emphasis is placed on the non-discursive, corporeal and emotional dimensions of mobility. Drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology Küpers provides insights into the complexity of the ‘experiential texture’ (Elliott and Urry, 2010: 67) of mobility (see also Huopalainen, this issue). The understanding of mobility as a bodily-mediated experience of moving in and through spaces is then linked to and illustrated by the example of virtual mobilities in organizations, which in the form of ‘tele-presences’ have created new conditions and forms of work and work organization.

While the broader social science literature on mobility has been mainly concerned with different forms and types of people’s movements (Elliott and Urry, 2010; Urry, 2007), the interest of this special issue is more narrow in that it focuses on forms and dimensions of mobility in relation to the contemporary world of work and organization. There is no doubt that mobility demands have strongly affected the professional sphere (e.g. Boltanski and Chiapello, 2005; Ciupijus, 2011), turning members of various occupations into temporary, and sometimes more permanent, ‘travellers’ (Colic-Peisker, 2010; Garsten, 2008). Being ‘mobile for work’ and ‘working while being mobile’ (Cohen, 2010) appears to be all but uncommon in the present-day network-based economy. Among other things, this can set in motion the (non)professional belongings and identities of working subjects (Daskalaki, 2012). As Cohen et al. (2015) argue, mobility has resulted in the collapsing of the boundary between work and non-work, destabilising dichotomies of ‘home’ and ‘away’, and increasing complexities of belonging and identity (see also Neiterman et al., this issue; du Plessis, this issue).

In this context, the implications of mobility for work(ers) and careers have in recent years attracted a certain amount of interest from MOS scholars (e.g. Cohen, 2010; Corbett, 2013; Costas, 2013; Daskalaki, 2012; Loacker and Śliwa, 2015). As we have argued, research on mobility and mobile work within MOS has previously placed emphasis on the geographical dimension (Cohen, 2010; Garsten, 2008). Meanwhile, mobility has also been explored in the context of work flexibilisation (Tietze and Musson, 2002), new communication technologies and virtual work environments (Brodt and Verburg, 2007), work satisfaction and job attachment (Pittinsky and Shih, 2004), and with regard to questions of work-life organization and balance (Kaufmann, 2002; Loacker and Śliwa, 2015), thereby touching upon other dimensions of mobility such as the psychological, social and symbolic. Despite the partly different foci of extant MOS studies, there seems to be a broad agreement among scholars that the ‘post-industrial paradigm’ of work organization operates less through fixing and enclosing individuals, but through strategies of mobilisation and the activation of working subjects and life in general; namely by encouraging ‘controlled circulation’ (Weiskopf and Munro, 2012) throughout all forms of social networks.

While recognising the valuable insights offered by recent MOS research on mobility, we simultaneously notice that critical analyses of the complexities, frictions and fissures associated with mobility and its multiple dimensions are still rare. In particular, within the two sub-fields of MOS where mobility has received most attention – career studies (e.g. Arthur and Rousseau, 1996; Hall, 1996) and studies of internationally mobile workers (e.g. Cerdin and Selmer, 2014; Dickman and Baruch, 2011) – the somewhat dualistic evaluations mentioned above are still prevalent. We find that both fields often offer studies that analyse mobility as conceptually widely uncomplicated and empirically all too easily classified in dichotomous terms, such as ‘good’/’bad’ and ‘choice’/‘necessity’, which we question below. A more comprehensive and granular approach, to which the contributions in this special issue aspire, might contribute to shifting the discussion to a different plane and create a conceptual space for speaking about mobility and work in new ways.

Mobility beyond choice and/or necessity

Career research provides a prime example of dichotomised assessments of mobility as either ‘intrinsically good’, stemming from free choice exercised by independent agents, or as ‘bad’ through being an externally imposed demand, taking away from individuals the opportunity to decide whether to move or not. An uncritically positive view of mobility is underpinned by two concepts that dominate the field of career studies, ‘protean careers’ (Hall, 1996) and ‘boundaryless careers’ (Arthur, 2014; Arthur and Rousseau, 1996). The notion of protean career is rooted in the premise that mobility opens up possibilities to individuals for learning, development and for making (better) career choices. As such, protean careers unfold in dynamic work environments and are infused with mobility, be it across jobs, organizations or functions. Similarly, mobility is assumed to be unquestionably good within the literature on boundaryless careers which emphasises how, in ‘a new career landscape where former constraints are dissolved and shattered’ (Baruch, 2013: 197), inter- and intra-organizational mobility enables individuals to exercise autonomy, manage their self-development and choose the employment positions they want (Arthur, 2014; for a critical example, see Lopdrup-Hjorth et al., 2011). Such homogeneously affirmative views of mobility represented by established career studies researchers stand in stark contrast to the arguments made by other scholars interested in mobile and mobilised careers, who stress that the kind of working life trajectories in which individuals move between projects and locations is not a result of a greater freedom and new opportunities for improving careers and lives. Rather than highlighting mobility as a ‘career competence’ (Hall, 1996), they point to the ‘darker’ and more problematic sides of mobility, arguing that movements linked to work, career and employment are part of a strategy to employ ‘temporary workers’ (Garsten, 2008) who secure a livelihood under conditions of precarity and uncertainty (e.g. Bergvall-Kareborn and Howcroft, 2013; Garsten, 2008; Roper et al., 2010).

Similarly, we observe dualistic portrayals of work- and profession-related mobility in studies of internationally mobile workers. Here, an understanding of mobility as ‘intrinsically good’ underlies discussions of highly skilled professionals, commonly referred to in the literature as self-initiated expatriates (SIEs). SIEs are considered to be individuals who are unrestricted in their movements between countries (Dickmann and Baruch, 2011), and to whom mobility presents an opportunity to take initiative regarding when and where to move (Andresen and Biemann, 2012). In a world of mobilised careers, they are seen as the ‘winners’ who ‘take charge of their careers’ (Cerdin and Selmer, 2014: 1281). Since their economic situation is viewed as characterised by prosperity and stability, SIEs can also benefit from another advantage brought about by mobility; i.e. engagement in diversified social networks, which are believed to further enhance their career progression (Peltokorpi and Froese, 2009). On the other hand, a very different evaluation of mobility emerges from studies of migrant workers for whom mobility is an externally imposed demand and a matter of economic or political necessity rather than choice (Al Ariss and Crowley-Henry, 2013). Their career options as well as choices regarding where and when to relocate are considered to be significantly limited. In the workplace, they are likely to be in a vulnerable position and to be discriminated against (Hakak and Al Ariss, 2013). For such individuals and groups of individuals, mobility hardly offers a way out of poverty and disadvantage; on the contrary, migrant workers are seen as constantly struggling to build economically sustainable livelihoods. This burden is not alleviated by the fact that they often belong to ethnic networks of a low socioeconomic status (Fang et al., 2013) upon which they cannot usefully draw to improve their work and job prospects (Hakak et al., 2010).

While not downplaying the insights and political relevance of studies of migrant workers, we argue that within the current network-based knowledge economy it appears that an increasing number of workers encounter and experience the rewarding as well as the challenging and burdensome sides of mobility demands (Loacker and Śliwa, 2015; Presskorn-Thygesen, this issue). In many instances contemporary working subjects seem to be ‘mobile for work’ (Cohen, 2010) because this is expected and taken for granted by respective occupational and organizational environments (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2005; Costas, 2013), and because being mobile is considered and portrayed as rich in variety, routine-intermitting and possibility-enhancing (Cohen, 2010; Daskalaki, 2012; Kim, 2010). Besides, oftentimes workers and employees do not tend to be persistently mobile but to be captivated by and in temporary ‘circuits of mobility’ (Garsten, 2008: 99).

The ambiguity and complexity of mobility is further reflected in contemporary modes of organizing that provide working subjects with a certain scope for autonomy and flexibility as to how, when, where and with whom work and employment are organized (Ciupijus, 2011). Yet at the same time modes of organization and organizing are increasingly individualised, provisional and contested in orientation (Costas, 2013). This complexity also finds expression in the metaphor of the ‘liquid organization’ (Kociatkiewicz and Kostera, 2014), capturing organizational modes in which various forms and dimensions of mobility are interconnected, orchestrated and socially and technologically mediated. The notion of ‘liquid organization’ refers to modes and practices of organizing in which choice is offered, but where the freedom to choose between various mobilities becomes an obligation. ‘Necessity’ on the other hand is not only imposed by external circumstances and constraints but is also self-generated as individuals ‘faced with an uncertain today and a precarious tomorrow’ (Clegg and Baumeler, 2014: 43) manage their selves, their work and careers while moving between various ‘projects’ and working on temporary assignments with unclear boundaries and often insecure incomes (Chertkovskaya et al., 2013). The ambivalences in the experience of being ‘mobile yet located’ (Daskalaki, 2012: 435) as well as the both enriching and challenging aspects associated with mobile and mobilised work arrangements (e.g. Garsten, 2008; Kim, 2009, 2010) hence tend to make it impossible to conclusively evaluate these arrangements in terms of the dichotomies of good/bad and choice/necessity.

To move the debate on mobility within MOS forward, the papers in this special issue address the topics and concerns discussed, while offering new perspectives on mobility and its evaluation. As outlined above, the issue’s ambition has been to construct a picture of mobility as a complex, multi-dimensional phenomenon that shapes the specific ways in which work and careers are organized and which is enacted differently by contemporary working subjects. In the following we introduce in more detail the five papers and five review essays included in this special issue.

The contributions

‘The ambiguous attractiveness of mobility: A view from the sociology of critique’ presents the first full paper of this special issue. It is written by Thomas Presskorn-Thygesen and addresses the phenomenon of mobility against the background of Boltanski’s (1990/2012) work on the ‘sociology of critique’ and ‘sociology of morals’. The use of this conceptual framework prompts Presskorn-Thygesen to discuss mobility as a construct that is informed by both economic value and moral value(s). The nexus of these values is then explored with reference to the currently predominant (projective) ‘order of worth’, which presents an order that socially and discursively promotes mobility and movement as morally good and desirable. Presskorn-Thygesen illustrates this argument by using examples from representatives of the so-called kinetic elite, who evoke and refer to work- and profession-related mobility as attractive and appealing, while at the same time acknowledging certain ambiguities and uncertainties that come along with it. Despite being mobile and striving to ‘believe in’ mobility and its potential benefits and rewards, members of this elite group of workers also articulate doubts regarding the extent to which being on the move ‘pays off’, e.g. in economic and social terms. However, the demand and imperative to be mobile within the contemporary ‘project polis’ (Boltanski and Chiapello, 2005) is not questioned as such, but rather portrayed as a central ideal and integrative feature of the work and life of members of the ‘kinetic elite’, which is worth living up to, ‘despite all’.

Gitte du Plessis’ paper ‘Enjoy your vacation!’ challenges our preconceived notions of vacation as a break from work and a chance for freedom. With reference to self-help memoir (and film) Eat, pray, love, du Plessis explores ‘vacation fantasies’ which promise us the chance to meet the neoliberal demand for self-fulfillment and self-realisation whilst on holiday. The paper reflects on how mobility is seen as part of the neoliberal promise – whether in or out of work. Yet this mobility to, for example, travel with work, does not ‘free’ workers but instead results in the encroachment of work into their lives, and often fails to achieve self-fulfillment. The vacation fantasies then become an ‘ideological supplement’ that underpins our connection with work by making us more accepting of our own alienation at work through the fantasy of finding self-realisation elsewhere. The mobility found in vacation travel, du Plessis argues, ultimately serves to tie us to our work by suggesting that we ‘live life’ on vacation, and that work provides the means or justification for taking vacations. Focusing particularly on ‘self-realisation vacations’, and drawing on the work of Žižek, she explores the fantasy of the self-realisation imperative, in which we anticipate finding ourselves, happiness and a sense of meaning in our travels (and how an industry has developed to help us achieve this). Yet this is a ‘decaf’ version. Even if we are not disappointed in our endeavours, true realisation of ourselves is unlikely since it would confront us with the reality of our working lives. This paper hints at the hierarchy of mobility, particularly that experienced by the ‘kinetic elite’, but also connects mobility to other neoliberal concerns such as the moral imperative for taking responsibility for your fulfillment and the need to ‘get away’ in order to seek to accomplish this.

In their paper ‘Navigating otherness and belonging: A comparative case study of IMGs’ professional integration in Canada and Sweden’, Elena Neiterman, Lisa Salmonsson and Ivy Lynn Bourgeault contribute to the debates on mainly geographical mobility and movement through an analysis of the narratives of international health care professionals in Canada and Sweden. The authors show how the power hierarchies underpinned by historico-economic circumstances and racial and ethnic tensions, reinforced by local migration policies and professional integration processes, play out at the micro-level of individuals. While the employment of non-native staff is crucial for the functioning of the health care systems in both countries, for participants in Neiterman et al.’s study the process of professional integration is far from straightforward. Their experiences of belonging and being ‘othered’ are dynamic, fluid and differently shaped depending on specific contexts and social interactions. Rather than experiencing a ‘settled’ professional position, these individuals negotiate and struggle with the contradictory condition of being both expected to belong to the new context of their work and life, and of being ‘othered’ by the virtue of the location of their professional education and, in many cases, their ethnicity. In doing so, they are seen to constantly strive to construct coherent and ‘positive’ professional identities.

Wendelin Küpers’ contribution ‘Emplaced and embodied mobility in organizations’ aims at a critical understanding of the experiential dimension of mobility which illuminates and reflects on how mobile and mobilised subjects experience their movements in and through organizational life-worlds. Küpers mainly draws on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and focuses on the body and the way bodies are placed. From this perspective organizational members are situated in and move through their everyday life-worlds. Places and spaces are not only socially constructed and imbued with meaning, they are also experienced through embodied beings. The ‘lived body’ is the medium for moving in and through the world and embodied spaces and places are seen as intermediary milieus for bodily movements, which influence and shape how multiple and interwoven relations of mobility unfold. Küpers’ contribution implies a dynamic and relational understanding of mobility, where mobility is not understood as a movement between fixed points, but as a dynamic becoming that emerges between situated people, placed artifacts and emerging environments that are also, and increasingly so, technologically mediated. From such ‘placed movements’ experiential processes, including affects, emotions, cognitions, identities and action are generated. Küpers’ approach reminds us of the dynamically complex nature of the experience of mobility, which escapes easy classification or judgement. Küpers illustrates his perspective with two examples from the organizational context: ‘Moving bodies at work’ and ‘tele-presences’ that are created by various forms of remote work, mainly enabled and intensified by the technologies of the internet. In particular the latter trigger new forms of mobility that are associated with ambivalent bodily experiences, where part of the ‘sensorial architecture’ of the body remains in the physical world, whereas another part is projected into the virtual world. Küpers’ paper engages some of the theoretical, political and methodological implications of this approach.

In ‘Who moves? Analysing fashion show organizing through micro-interactions of bodily movement’, Astrid Huopalainen explores the micro-level of bodily movement in the context of a fashion show. Despite the growing attention given to embodiment, bodily movement, she argues, is often taken for granted as the mundane, everyday activity of life, yet lies at the heart of organizing. The participant observer study draws together movement at many levels, from the movement of the industry in which novelty is paramount, to the change of locations and the behind the scenes activity to bring everything together, as well as the display on the catwalk – including the movement of the clothing. The need to produce an exclusive show on a low budget demands careful crafting of bodily movements on stage as well as those required to ensure that the limited materials are in place to accomplish the show. Reminiscent of Goffman’s work, the paper explores the backstage movement required to accomplish the front stage performance, but also how this movement is negotiated with other movements, such as who will attend particular shows, highlighting the relational nature of movement. As well as context, like Küpers, she stresses the importance of the spatial-material dimensions of mobility and movement. There is also evidence of the practice of movement, in which seasoned organizers move in certain patterned ways, and the less experienced ‘learn’ from the more experienced or are prescribed how to move, through which certain norms and ways of working are established. Not only do bodily movements shape organizing, they are also constructed by it. Huopalainen’s paper stresses the kinetic and reminds us that organizing implies movement and is not static.

Next to the full papers, this special issue includes five review essays of books on individual and collective mobility and movement(s) in a globalised world of organizing.

Oskar Christensson reviews the edited volume Critical mobilities in which contemporary forms and types of mobility are explored in geopolitical contexts such as Europe, the US and India. These forms and types are investigated from a critical perspective, foregrounding questions of inclusion(s) and exclusion(s) that are concomitant with recent demands to be ‘on the move’. The volume’s contributions thereby draw main inspiration from the fields of mobility and migration studies.

In Matt Rodda’s review of Life between borders we encounter a variety of different experiences and understandings of the mobility of a particular professional group, namely artists. In this collection of personal accounts we learn more about the reasons for, and consequences of nomadic lifestyles on artists’ daily life, identity, art practice and outlook. We also learn about the distinctions between migrants and nomads in terms of the impetus for being mobile.

Mikkel Mouritz Marfelt’s review of The politics of belonging explores notions of identity and belonging through an intersectional analysis. Whilst exploring categories such as citizenship, nationality and religion, which suggest a limit to mobility in the sense of belonging somewhere rather than anywhere, the review particularly points to questions over and resistance towards the ‘naturalisation’ of both physical and imaginary boundaries.

In the review essay of Digital labour and Marx, Chris Land portrays and critically discusses the scope and use of Marxist theory to understand commodities and the process of commodification as integrative features of contemporary digital and globalised forms of work and labour. With reference to Fuchs the review highlights exploitation attempts of neoliberal production modes as well as concomitant (non)alienation struggles that digital, mobile workers – as well as working consumers – may encounter and experience.

The last review included in the special issue is a review by Thomas Swann of In the interest of others: Organizations and social activism. This book investigates the political activities of social movement organizations such as trade unions and thereby elaborates on the challenges and problems that (trans)local social movement organizations face in a globalised, network-based world of work and organization.

Concluding reflections

Thanks to the diversity of conceptual frameworks utilised and empirical studies conducted, the papers and review essays making up this special issue provide us with illuminating insights into different mobility dimensions, and how they inform current forms of work and organizing beyond confined organizational and occupational boundaries and thus space and time. In portraying mobility as a complex principle of contemporary ‘liquid organization’ (Kociatkiewicz and Kostera, 2014) and ‘liquid society’, the contributions to the special issue further reveal some of the central ambiguities and frictions that are concomitant with prevalent social and discursive demands for mobility and movement, and which oftentimes operate regardless of whether movements are actually occurring or remain a potentiality (Baerenholdt, 2013; Jensen, 2011).

Against this background, we want to encourage future research on mobility, work, careers and organizing to take forward this issue’s focus on the complexities and complex implications that demands to be ‘on the move’ evoke and produce. In particular, we call for a continued problematisation of work- and profession-related mobility as either free choice or necessity. Indeed, future research might wish to pay more attention to the mutual influence of social-discursive mobility imperatives and the emergence of ‘mobilised identities’, whereby a lack of predictability and stability in professional terms might become a taken-for-granted condition that is reflected in individuals’ trajectories but not problematised per se (Loacker and Śliwa, 2015). We would also like to urge researchers to direct their interest towards showing how different dimensions of mobility interweave and to further address, for example, the interconnections between spatial, economic, social and symbolic mobility. There is also scope for studies unsettling the distinction between different scales of mobility and hence bringing together considerations of issues surrounding intra- and inter-organizational mobility, in order to identify possible common denominators of mobility in relation to organization (Cohen, 2010). Moreover, it would be valuable for future research to explore different temporal ‘rhythms’ of mobility and fixity, focusing on the occurrence and links between the almost constant forms of mobility (such as daily or weekly commuting) and the less frequent but also very significant episodes of mobility, such as those exemplified by (inter)national work- and profession-related relocations (Ackers, 2005; Kim, 2010).

We envisage such research extending beyond the sphere of work. In times in which translocal network-patterns appear to be predominant and ‘boundaryless’ professional trajectories tend to develop as a new norm, every sphere of life is considered as a possibly productive and mobilisable sphere (Corbett, 2013; Land and Taylor, 2010). In this context, mobility has far-reaching consequences for our understanding of notions such as work-life (im)balance, (non)professional community, or home (Cohen et al., 2015; Colic-Peisker, 2010). For critically informed studies of mobility/ies and mobile work this implies, among other things, that it is important to also allow for new and modified social-material relations and forms of life organization that emerge as a response to contemporary imperatives for ‘being on the move’.


Ackers, L. (2005) ‘Moving people and knowledge: Scientific mobility in the European Union’, International Migration, 43(5): 99-129.

Adey, P. (2010) Mobility. London: Routledge.

Al Ariss, A. and M. Crowley-Henry (2013) ‘Self-initiated expatriation and migration in the management literature: Present theorizations and future research directions’, Career Development International, 18(1): 78-96.

Andresen, M. and T. Biemann (2012) ‘Career concepts of self-initiated and assigned expatriates: A theoretical analysis based on coupling and configuration’, in M. Andresen, A. Al Ariss and M. Walther (eds.) Self-initiated expatriation: Individual, organizational, and national perspectives. New York: Routledge.

Arthur, M (2014) ‘The boundaryless career at 20: Where do we stand, and where can we go?’, Career Development International, 19(6): 627-640.

Arthur, M.B. and D.B. Rousseau (1996) The boundaryless career: A new employment principle for a new organizational era. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Baerenholdt, J.O. (2013) ‘Governmobility: The powers of mobility’, Mobilities, 8(1): 20-34.

Baruch, Y. (2013) ‘Careers in academe: The academic labour market as an ecosystem’, Career Development International, 18(2): 196-210.

Bauman, Z. (2007) Liquid times: Living in an age of uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Beck, U. (2007) ‘Beyond class and nation: Reframing social inequalities in a globalizing world’, British Journal of Sociology, 58(4): 679-705.

Beck, U. and N. Sznaider (2006) ‘Unpacking cosmopolitanism for the social sciences: A research agenda’, The British Journal of Sociology, 57(1): 1-23.

Bergvall-Kareborn, B. and D. Howcroft (2013) ‘“The future’s bright, the future’s mobile”: A study of Apple and Google mobile application developers’, Work, Employment and Society, 27(6): 964-981.

Bigo, D. (2006) ‘Globalized (in)security: The field and the ban-opticon’, in N. Sakei and J. Solomon (eds.) Traces 4: Translation, biopolitics, colonial difference. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Boltanski, L. (1990/2012) Love and justice as competences. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Boltanski, L. and E. Chiapello (2005) The new spirit of capitalism. London: Verso.

Brickell, K. and A. Datta (2011) ‘Introduction: Translocal geographies’, in K. Brickell and A. Datta (eds.) Translocal geographies: Spaces, places, connections. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Castells, M. (2001) The rise of the network society. Oxford and Malden (MA): Blackwell.

Cerdin, J-L. and J. Selmer (2014) ‘Who is a self-initiated expatriate? Towards conceptual clarity of a common notion’, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 25(9): 1281-1301.

Chertkovskaya, E., P. Watt, S. Tramer and S. Spoelstra (eds.) (2013) ‘Giving notice to employability’, ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 13(4).

Ciupijus, Z. (2011) ‘Mobile central eastern Europeans in Britain: Successful European Union citizens and disadvantaged labour migrants?’, Work, Employment and Society, 25(3): 540-550.

Clegg, S.R. and C. Baumeler (2014) ‘Liquid modernity, the owl of Minerva and technologies of the emotional self’, in J. Kociatkiewicz and M. Kostera (eds.) Liquid Organization: Zygmunt Bauman and organization theory. London: Routledge, pp. 35-57.

Cohen, R.L. (2010) ‘Rethinking mobile work: Boundaries of space, time and social relation in the working lives of mobile hairstylists’, Work, Employment and Society, 24(1): 65-84.

Cohen, S.A., T. Duncan and M. Thulemark (2015) ‘Lifestyle mobilities: The crossroads of travel, leisure and migration’, Mobilities, 15(1): 155-172.

Colic-Peisker, V. (2010) ‘Free floating in the cosmopolis? Exploring the identity-belonging of transnational knowledge workers’, Global Networks, 10(4): 467-488.

Conradson, D. and D. Mckay (2007) ‘Translocal subjectivities: Mobility, connection, emotion’, Mobilities, 2(2): 167-174.

Corbett, M. (2013) ‘Cold comfort firm: Lean organization and the empirical mirage of the comfort zone’, Culture and Organization, 19(5): 413-429.

Costas, J. (2013) ‘Problematizing mobility: A metaphor of stickiness, non-places and the kinetic elite’, Organization Studies, 34(10): 1467-1485.

Cresswell, T. (2006) On the move: Mobility in the western modern world. London: Routledge.

Daskalaki, M. (2012) ‘Personal narratives and cosmopolitan identities: An autobiographical approach’, Journal of Management Inquiry, 21(4): 430-441.

Dickmann, M. and Y. Baruch (2011) Global careers. New York: Routledge.

Donzelot, J. and C. Gordon. (2008) ‘Governing liberal societies – the Foucault effect in the English-speaking World. Interview’, Foucault Studies, 5: 48-62.

Elliott, A. and J. Urry (2010) Mobile lives. London: Routledge.

Fang, T., A-K. Samnani, M.M. Novicevic and M.N. Bing (2013) ‘Liability-of-foreignness effect on job success of immigrant job seekers’, Journal of World Business, 48(1): 98-109.

Favell, A., M. Feldblum and P.M. Smith (2007) ‘The human face of global mobility: A research agenda’, Society, 44(2): 15-25.

Foucault, M. (2008) The birth of biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-1979. London: Palgrave-Macmillan.

Gabriel, Y. (2005) ‘Glass cages and glass palaces: Images of organization in image-conscious times’, Organization, 12(1): 9-27.

Garsten, C. (2008) Workplace vagabonds: Career and community in changing world of work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Greiner C. and P. Sakdapolrak (2013) ‘Translocality: Concepts, applications and emerging research perspectives’, Geography Compass, 7(5): 373-384.

Hakak, L. T. and A. Al Ariss, (2013) ‘Vulnerable work and international migrants: A relational human resource management perspective’, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 24(22): 4116-4131.

Hakak, L.T., I. Holzinger and J. Zikic (2010) ‘Barriers and paths to success: Latin American MBAs’ views of employment in Canada’, Journal of Managerial Psychology, 25(2): 159-176.

Hall, D. (1996) ‘Protean careers of the 21st century’, Academy of Management Executive, 10(4): 8-16.

Hannam, K., M. Sheller and J. Urry (2006) ‘Mobilities, immobilities and moorings’, Mobilities, 1(1): 1-22.

Jensen, A. (2011) ‘Mobility, space and power: On the multiplicities of seeing mobility’, Mobilities, 6(2): 255-271.

Kaufmann, V. (2002) Re-thinking mobility: Contemporary sociology. Ashgate: Aldershot.

Kesselring, S. (2006) ‘Pioneering mobilities: New pattern of movement and motility in a mobile world’, Environment and Planning A, 38(2): 269-279.

Kim, T. (2009) ‘Transnational academic mobility, internationalization and interculturality in higher education’, Intercultural Education, 20(5): 395-405.

Kim, T. (2010) ‘Transnational academic mobility, knowledge and identity capital’, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 31(5): 577-591.

Knox, H., D. O’Doherty, T. Vurdubakis, and C. Westrup (2008) ‘Enacting airports: Space, movement and modes of ordering’, Organization, 15(6): 869-888.

Kociatkiewicz, J. and M. Kostera (eds.) (2014) Liquid organization: Zygmunt Bauman and organization theory. London: Routledge.

Land, C. and S. Taylor (2010) ‘“Surf’s up”: Work, life, balance and brand in a new age capitalist organization’, Sociology, 44(3): 395-413.

Loacker, B. and M. Śliwa (2015) ‘“Moving to stay in the same place?” Academics and theatrical artists as exemplars of the “mobile middle”’, Organization, doi: 1350508415598247.

Lopdrup-Hjorth, T., M. Gudmand-Høyer, P. Bramming and M. Pedersen (eds.) (2011) ‘Governing work through self-management’, ephemera: theory & politics in organization, 11(2).

McMorran, C. (2015) ‘Mobilities amid the production of fixities: Labour in a Japanese inn’, Mobilities, 10(1): 83-99.

Munck, R. (2008) ‘Globalisation, governance and migration: An introduction’, Third World Quarterly, 29(7): 1227-1246.

Peltokorpi, V. and F.J. Froese (2009) ‘Organizational expatriates and self-initiated expatriates: Who adjusts better to work and life in Japan?’, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 20(5): 1096-1112.

Pittinsky, T. and M. Shih (2004) ‘Knowledge nomads: Organizational commitment and worker mobility in positive perspective’, American Behavioral Scientist, 46(6): 791-807.

Richardson, Y. and O.B. Jensen (2008) ‘How mobility systems produce inequality: Making mobile subject types on the Bangkok Sky Train’, Built Environment, 34(2): 218-231.

Rogaly, B. (2015) ‘Disrupting migration stories: Reading life histories through the lens of mobility and fixity’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 33(3): 528-544.

Roper, J., S. Ganesh and K. Inkson (2010) ‘Neoliberalism and knowledge interests in career discourse’, Work, Employment and Society, 24(4): 661-679.

Rosenfeld, R. (1992) ‘Job mobility and career processes’, Annual Review of Sociology, 18: 39-61.

Sheller, M. and J. Urry (2006) ‘The new mobilities paradigm’, Environment and Planning A, 38(2): 207-226.

Söderström, O., S. Randeria, D. Ruedin, G. D’Amato and F. Panese (eds.) (2013) Critical mobilities. London: Routledge.

Szerszynski, B. and J. Urry (2006) ‘Visuality, mobility and the cosmopolitan: Inhabiting the world from afar’, British Journal of Sociology, 57(1): 113-132.

Tietze, S. and G. Musson (2002) ‘Working from home and managing guilt’, Organisation and People, 9(1): 34-39.

Urry, J. (2002) ‘Mobility and proximity’, Sociology, 36(2): 255-274.

Urry, J. (2007) Mobilities. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Wajcman, J. and E. Rose (2011) ‘Constant connectivity: Rethinking interruptions at work’, Organization Studies, 32(7): 941-961.

Weiskopf, R. and I. Munro (2012) ‘Management of human capital: Discipline, security and controlled circulation in HRM’, Organization, 19(6): 685-702.

the author(s)  

Emma Jeanes is a member of the editorial collective of ephemera.

Email: e.jeanes AT


Bernadette Loacker is a member of the editorial collective of ephemera.

Email: b.loacker AT


Martyna Śliwa is a member of the editorial collective of ephemera.

Email: masliwa AT


Richard Weiskopf is a Professor at the Department for Organization and Learning, Innsbruck School of Management, Innsbruck University.

Email: richard.weiskopf AT