Canadian Anthropology Society (CASCA)
Oral Presentation Session
This paper probes the benefits of thinking about cities in terms of the journeys that converge upon them and connect them with other places. Drawing on a concept of navigation that emphasizes everyday improvised practices of movement, it focuses on the very personal journeys of biographical subjects and something I call ‘spatial biography’. Spatial biography – inspired by de Certeau’s observation that ‘every story is a travel story’ – captures people’s lives and place making in mobile spatial terms. Spatial biography foregrounds places and the movements that connect and coproduce them, offering a conception of cities as constituted through inchoate jumbles of multiple crosscutting human and material journeys that are sometimes narrated in words but always enacted in movement. Spatial biography is about the being and doing of urban subjects and subjectivities. Although this idea slowly emerged in the context of several fieldwork projects, in this presentation I draw primarily on a small study of UK migrants living in Beijing, whom I set beside a group of internal rural to urban migrants whose journeys keep them moving on the periphery of the same city. I will argue that spatial biography makes it possible to think about cities and the mobile subjects constituting them in more open and creative ways, highlighting mechanisms of place making in the fabric and fabrication of cities, as well as revealing which journeys and mobile subjects cities support and which they marginalise.