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Mobilities, Boundaries, and Travelling Ideas

Philipp Schröder
Manja Stephan-Emmrich


Nathan Light

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1The present volume brings together a valuable range of contributions that develop the analysis of translocality and mobilities. This research perspective is particularly important in Central Asia and the Caucasus because people in these regions have a long history of movement and engagement with surrounding regions. Adopting a translocal perspective helps reveal the ways researchers from elsewhere have shaped these regions’ histories by emphasizing, on the one hand, enduring occupation of stable regions in the Caucasus and, on the other, mobile lives along the ‘Silk Road’ of Central Asia: in contrast, people living in these regions have long created more complex histories and cultural relations along both imagined and practical dimensions. Another important contribution made by this volume is to stimulate diverse perspectives through collaboration among researchers from the Caucasus, Central Asia, and abroad. In what follows I point to some ways that Central Asian and Caucasian realities can inspire new insights into the developing theoretical paradigms of research on translocality and mobility practices.

2Social science and humanities studies on globalization, transnationalism, and mobility began as somewhat novel themes in the 1980s, and have expanded rapidly since. In social and cultural anthropology in particular this research area became popular and more diverse in the 1990s. Mobility is now a well-established interdisciplinary research perspective, as evidenced by such landmarks as the journals Mobilities founded in 2006 and Transfers: Interdisciplinary Journal of Mobility Studies in 2011, and the Routledge Handbook of Mobilities published in 2014. Translocality or translocalism has emerged more slowly into the academic limelight, being overshadowed by the more established paradigms of globalization and transnationalism with their emphasis on larger-scale transformations.

3Mobility and translocality and the theories, models, and methodologies linked to them have been dominated by ideas about the contemporary expansion and acceleration of movement across the globe. Nevertheless, the conceptual framework used to research mobility and translocality facilitates investigation of past movements of people and things as well. The modernization and globalization paradigms deploy a linear sense of ongoing acceleration, broadly aligned with the aspirational economic expansion institutionalized within many national and international governmental practices. This contrasts with more nuanced research on translocal mobilities focusing on varying patterns of historical and contemporary movement and circulation under the shifting constraints and aspirations of mobile subjects.

4The increasing attention given to mobility and translocality in the social sciences over the past twenty-five years has extended to topics such as transport, migration, refugees, tourism, borders, and exile. With an initial emphasis on changing relationships among people, communities, and the nation state, researchers examined how globalizing economic activities, tourism, and migration were leading to novel transnational practices and identities. On the one hand, situations were treated as ethnographically distinctive in order to highlight emergent and shifting practices, such as commodity chains, mobile capital, or new patterns of labour migration, while on the other hand, researchers also pointed to broader trends in which increasing mobility and global connections led generally to postnational social dynamics that required new theories and methodologies. Usually rooting their narrative in Benedict Anderson’s (1983) discussion of the rise of the nation state and its social, political, and territorial institutions to become a twentieth century universal, anthropologists such as Arjun Appadurai (1990), Liisa Malkki (1995), and Aihwa Ong (1999) suggested that the nation state was being superseded in ways that required new concepts, theories, and methods to understand.

5Emergent transnationalism and globalization were identified as new conditions calling for new ways of thinking. Fewer scholars sought ways to use these new models to examine past mobility practices. At the extreme, the focus on novel conditions has led to studies emphasizing radical change and disruption such as Marc Augé’s Non-Places: An Introduction to Supermodernity (2008), Thomas Eriksen’s Overheating. An Anthropology of Accelerated Change (2016), or Steven Vertovec’s ‘Super-Diversity and its Implications’ (2007). Such titles point to a broad narrative of modern lives being swallowed up by ever-increasing activity, rather than allowing for shifts, eddies, or deflations that might complicate such inexorable increase.

6The underlying notion of a great divide emerging in late modernity has been difficult to deny. The emphasis on the ‘acceleration of everything’ — or ‘time-space compression’ as David Harvey (1989:284–307) aptly puts It — points to real processes, but raises many of the same problems as other great divide theories, such as stadialism in nineteenth-century cultural evolutionism (Meek 1976), or the posited oral-literate divide (Collins 1995). There is much room to debate whether or not people are experiencing radical changes or ruptures that call for entirely new ways of thinking. Both historians and anthropologists have tended to find more multidirectional shifts and practices, such as ‘vernacular modernities’ (Knauft 2002) and ‘multiple literacies’ (Street 1993) that undermine generalizations about the effects of new technologies, while sociologists tend to focus on the broader changes characterizing postmodern life.

7Despite continuing consideration of acceleration and emergent mobilities and complexities, more recent studies generally make fewer claims about radical novelty, and expend more effort comparing transformations and examining long-term and ongoing processes. These approaches consider both ruptures and continuities, as well as considering earlier studies of mobility in order to enhance theories about it.

8Mobility has arguably always been a key aspect of scholarly habitus itself, due to the importance of travel for research, cooperation, publication, and jobs (with equivalents in classical or medieval periods, and in Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East). Other economic activities have likewise long involved workers, managers, capital, raw materials, equipment and products moving in distinctive ways along widely varying circuits. All over the world, people move and carry ideas and objects with them and pass them along to others. These are fundamental to social processes, historical narratives, and cultural expression, but their centrality has often been overlooked due to what might be termed methodological localism. The contemporary expansion of the variety and extent of movement has prompted more careful attention, and challenged researchers to consider the qualitative changes caused by such mobilities. However, assessing the scale of movement and the degree of qualitative change requires deeper understanding of the prevalence and varieties of mobilities in the past.

Disciplinary genres and models

9Disciplinary research often fits within what might described as typical chronotopes: sociologists generally emphasize large-scale transformations, while anthropologists often seek criss-crossing temporal connections, rather than embracing linear concepts of a present emerging from and diversifying upon the past. Anthropologists tend to discover more varied social formations, and, at least since the work of Eric Wolf (1982) and Johannes Fabian (1983), they have exhibited less of a tendency to view people as travellers in culturally-assigned positions along convergent historical paths. Changes, including shifts in mobilities and translocal practices, are more varied in the diverse social formations that anthropologists study. Earlier generations of anthropologists have explored cyclic (e.g., oscillations between gumsa and gumlao described by Edmund Leach 1954) and multidirectional histories. Historians, on the other hand, are less inclined to subsume activity within models of cycles or linear processes, and focus more on unique paths, avoiding both linear and cyclic chronotopes. In yet another pattern, economists are prone to identifying developmental stages, but also find a variety of cycles of development and decline within such stages. Economists thus tend to subordinate cycles to longer-term linear transformations of economic systems.

10Disciplinary chronotopes and models emphasize different dimensions when making sense of mobility and translocality in their contemporary forms. Most sociologists, geographers, anthropologists, political scientists, historians, and cultural studies scholars continue to work with somewhat different understandings of mobilities, but a few specialists have been making productive connections among these evolving theoretical models. These include Peter Adey (2017), Tim Cresswell (2006), and Peter Merriman (2007) in geography, John Urry (2007) in sociology, Noel Salazar (2010) and Salazar and Nina Glick-Schiller (2013) in anthropology, Peter Greenblatt in literary studies (Greenblatt 2009), and Ulrike Freitag and Achim von Oppen (2010) in history.

11Although historians have a longer tradition of studying regional networks and interactions, and generally focus on particularities, the limits of methodological regionalism have led to the subordination of translocal connections under the broader perspective of ‘world history’. Between the levels of world and regional history, historians and cultural studies scholars have produced important new frames for understanding ‘connected histories’ involving many local processes, such as the Black Atlantic (Gilroy 1993, Thornton 1998), the Indian Ocean world (Anderson 2012, Freitag 2003), Indian merchants (Dale 2002, Markovits 2000), and studies of the Islamicate, Persianate, and Sanskrit ecumenes (Hodgson 1974, Pollock 2006). The large-scale sociopolitical perspective of civilizational analysis has also become increasingly popular (Árnasson 2003, Arjomand 2011), but should be informed by more studies of cosmopolitan subjectivities and mobilities (Kia forthcoming).

12Dominant concepts within scholarly institutions strongly influence the ideas and research perspectives taken up within them. Patrick Manning’s (2003) suggestive history of scholarship on the African diaspora shows how the study of interregional connections has been limited by institutional commitments towards more geographically-defined specializations. Recent critiques of the limits of area studies has led to a ‘new area studies’ paradigm that seeks to overcome its earlier narrowness and rigidity (see particularly Mielke and Hornidge 2014, and the discussion by Stephan-Emmrich and Schröder in this volume’s introduction). But the most radical innovation will be to integrate the study of individual translocalism and the larger processes that dominate research.

Philosophical approaches

13Although philosophical work has inspired important thinking across methodological and disciplinary frames, relatively few philosophers have written relevant works, principally Michel de Certeau (1984) and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1987). Deleuze’s extravagant analysis of ‘the fold’ (1993) has not been widely used to theorize movement, but offers valuable suggestions about how to understand non-linear connections among times and places. Emil Nasritdinov elegantly takes up the fold in his contribution to the present volume, and develops its potential for understanding mobility in spiritual terms. The abstractions expounded by Deleuze are slippery: his is a Baroque theory of the Baroque, and its complexity and flexibility makes it difficult to apply. But Nasritdinov suggests that the concept of the fold can help us understand Islamic beliefs and practices in both their complexity and rigidity, and their creativity and rapid transformation. According to him, through the mobile religious practice of davaat, people attain transformative experiences that make them more devout, but without a stable logic or structure for this transformation. He suggests that the fold connects multiple ‘movements’. Including dreaming, pilgrimage, and remembering, which are crucial to Muslim spiritual transformation.

14De Certeau, Deleuze, and Guattari all suggest that the dominant focus on stable concepts in Western philosophy has restricted consideration of interactions between disorder and boundaries, or among movement, assemblage, and entanglement. In short, the logic of capturing stable truths promotes the search for bounded entities and their characteristics, rather than investigating the interplay of chance, planning, and routine in shaping complex trajectories such as those that emerge in mobility.

15The discussion of place and space is closely linked to that of mobilities and translocality, but connects to the larger philosophical literature that I will not attempt to review comprehensively here. Two important contributions are the work of Tim Ingold (2011) in anthropology, and Edward Casey in philosophy, both working on phenomenological accounts of places and ways of moving among them. Casey cites anthropological research extensively and has in turn been widely cited by anthropologists. His phenomenological analyzes of imagination (1976) and memory (1987) stimulate thinking about transtemporal connections, while his efforts to recuperate place as a central category of life from the spatializing tendencies of rationalizing modernity (1993, 1997) have been important for thinking about space and place in recent humanities and social science research.

16Casey examines the role of movement among places at some length (1993:271-314) but does not explore connections to his earlier work on imagination and memory, and suggests that mobility is subordinate to place. He takes up many strands in his discussion, but his prevailing approach to place follows Heidegger, writing that ‘For Heidegger, place and the self are intimately interlocked in the world of concrete work’ and thus ‘place and self are thoroughly enmeshed’ (2001:684). Expanding from the idea of work to Bourdieu’s broader concept of habitus, Casey proposes that ‘habitus is a middle term between place and self, and, in particular, between lived place and the geographical self. This self is constituted by a core of habitudes that incorporate and continue, at both psychical and physical levels, what one has experienced in particular places’ (2001:686). Although he does hold that places and journeys are mutually constituting, writing that ‘places introduce permanency into journeys’ and ‘journeys bring out what is impermanent and continuously changing when we are in place itself’ (1994:289), his treatment of the practices related to journeys and movement is limited, and a sense of attachment to essentialized and materialist concepts of place prevails in his work, reifying place as the foundation underlying human embodiment and activities.

17Casey’s extensive analysis of the treatment of place in philosophical tradition raises important issues and suggests how practices embed people into places, but he downplays the importance of movement and activity in the constitution of places. In order to promote a contrasting perspective, I would argue that human experience is founded upon and emerges within motion, whether constrained movement around a room, field, or workspace, or within larger ambits, which should be considered part of the investigation of translocal practices. Attention to subjects in places should recognize their activity within a phenomenology of movement, with psychic or physical confinement or constraint as dimensions to be accounted for, but not absolute bounds of emplacement.

18Examination of the role of translocalism and movement in the constitution of subjects can take several directions. A recent treatment developed by Tim Edensor is based on Henri Lefebvre’s concept of rhythmanalysis. Edensor suggests that ‘rhythmanalysis elucidates how places possess no essence but are ceaselessly (re)constituted out of their connections. For instance, cities are particularly dense spatial formations containing a complex mix of multiple, heterogeneous social interactions, materialities, mobilities and imaginaries which connect through twists and fluxes of interrelation’. He continues, ‘As Lefebvre says, ‘(There is) nothing inert in the world’, which he illustrates with the examples of the seemingly quiescent garden that is suffused with the polyrhythms of ‘trees, flowers, birds and insects’ […] and the forest, which ‘moves in innumerable ways: the combined movements of the soil, the earth, the sun. Or the movements of the molecules and atoms that compose it’ (Edensor 2011:190, citing Lefebvre 2004).

19Tim Ingold (2011) also focuses more on motion than place, and rejects either bounded places or beings in favour of a more fluid ‘meshwork’. Ingold’s suggestion that neither the subject nor the path are bounded entities helps disrupt assumptions about how to do fieldwork on mobilities. Phenomenologically informed fieldwork can investigate mobility practices even within everyday places. In their recent edited volume, Salazar, Elliot, and Norum (2017) suggest that there are many ways to investigate mobility while remaining ‘in place’ and that understanding people’s activities within mobility formations and infrastructures calls for a broad range of perspectives and methods.


20Questions of time, space, and place have been widely developed in philosophy and the social sciences, but mobile people have been investigated more as distinct types or figures: flaneurs, commuters, tourists, nomads, foragers, hunters, traders, itinerants, vagabonds, and pilgrims have been subject to particularistic consideration, as Noel Salazar (2017) points out in the introduction to a recent special issue entitled Figures of Mobility. Space and time are treated as continua, while commoditized mobilities, distinct ways of passing through space and time, are seen typologically as categories for labelling people and things (e. g., first class, posh, express, or even the ironic term for the Midwest in the US: the ‘flyover zone’). Travel typologies can be used to distinguish modern from pre-modern, or even civilized from primitive. The very technologies that provide mobility across boundaries are themselves segregated and differentiated because they are commoditized products. Social stratification within transport allows elite travellers to isolate themselves and alleviate some of the travails of mobility, and divides the spectrum of mobility practices into socioeconomic categories. Elite spaces, such as airport club lounges and limousines, are inaccessible to those on non-elite trajectories.

21Communication media also invite typological distinctions, making it more difficult to identify similarities and continuities of practice as new technologies become part of people’s lives. Smartphone technology, with apps such as WhatsApp, provides for convenient and cheap communication and the sharing of digital images when travelling or living abroad, but there are important functional similarities in their use to create mementoes for oneself or images that can be circulated to significant others. Photographs and letters sent by post, phone calls, and SMS texts serve similar purposes regardless of their prominent differences. Technology may change rapidly but it participates in a complex balance of transformation and continuity: people adopt technologies that serve existing goals more readily than they adapt themselves to technologies by discovering and taking up novel goals and practices.

22Questions persist about how to recognize and evaluate the ways new technologies and mobility practices are changing people and their social relations. Transport is undeniably faster and more ubiquitous, consuming more energy and other resources despite improving technologies, and taking people farther and more often. But are people spending more time and effort travelling? And does that travel isolate them from their community and lead to weaker social ties? Or are communication technologies making it possible to stay in touch, and facilitating mobility, allowing people to compensate for distance by alternative connections? Do community-based trust networks expand more easily to distant places through more versatile communication technologies? Such questions have to be carefully addressed by exploring how practices compensate or interact with one another, potentially reducing the effects of acceleration and complexity through connectivity and communication.

23In a somewhat different direction and one that has been more extensively researched, online bulletin boards and discussion lists promote broader dialogue among members of ethnolinguistic groups and keep people in touch with developments affecting people, both in their home country as well as in foreign communities (Wilson and Peterson 2002, Bernal 2006). As with the role Benedict Anderson (1983) identified for print capitalism in shaping ethnic and national consciousness, online discussions can also lead to stronger identification with a community despite distance. Although print also enabled ongoing connections, it depends upon more localized production and distribution while internet access allows the community to stretch much more widely.

24In my own research, I find Kyrgyzstani villagers using digital media to circulate information about each other despite wide displacement around the globe, but I am not sure that much of this information would not have been similarly distributed, if more slowly, through face-to-face encounters and postal communications in the past. In any case, it is clear that technology offers capacities that serve people’s aspirations and values more than to reshape them. For example, villagers feel it is important to document ritual events, but usually do this through hiring a specialist to make high quality video recordings and edit them for distribution and replay. Cell phone videos are too low quality to preserve important events, so at least during the past ten years I have found that Kyrgyz rely upon local videographers and editors who create highly professional videos that people then circulate as physical recordings. Of course, the rapid shifts from black-and-white still photography in the Soviet period, to color photography after 1991, and then VCR and DVD videos does show an increasing rate of change, with new technologies giving young technology buffs the opportunity to become local professionals. Nonetheless, the most successful technology business in one village where I work remained, even in 2016, a photographer who uses camera, computer and printer to produce and edit digital color images for local customers.

Cosmopolitan connections

25A wide variety of studies have taken up questions of cosmopolitan lifestyles and mobilities in Eurasia, including studies of connections among South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Central Asia. Cosmopolitanism has a long history throughout Eurasia, and reflects continuities within mobility practices such as trade and pilgrimage. Work by Engseng Ho (2006), Caroline Humphrey and Vera Skvirskaja (2012), Scott Levi (2002), Magnus Marsden (2008, 2016), Madeleine Reeves (2014), Jonah Steinberg (2007), Rian Thum (2014), and Pnina Werbner (1999, 2006) and many others have helped refine our knowledge of cosmopolitan mobility practices in this region.

26Many of the works mentioned above, as well as chapters in this volume, can be seen as part of the broader study of Muslim mobilities. Important works in this field include Eickelman and Piscatori (1990) and Gelvin and Green (2014). Muslim translocal practices are widely reflected in Islamic literary tradition, with scholars, traders, and geographers leaving more than a millennium of written documents reflecting the circulation of people within the Islamic ecumene and beyond (e.g., Miquel 1987). Relevant to Central Asia is Wennberg’s (2014) study of Bukharan literati reflecting upon acceleration, travel, and temporality in the late nineteenth century. Emphasizing the mobility of cosmopolitan Persianate literati, Mana Kia (forthcoming) describes the ideals of conduct known as adab as a mobile ethos that facilitates interaction among Muslims who encounter each other far from home.

27Cosmopolitan activities were also an important aspect of the Soviet Union’s ideology of progress, and included travel for professional and trade education, military service, and the participation of young workers in national projects such as the Baikal-Amur Mainline railway and hydroelectric construction projects. These efforts brought people together from many parts of the USSR and helped create pan-Soviet social experience and shared ideology and values. Such Soviet-era activities, along with tourism and long-distance trade, provided a foundation for ongoing connections in post-Soviet contexts, as well as shaping cosmopolitan aspirations and practices that motivate translocal mobility.

28Post-Soviet translocal practices seem to be shaped more by economic motivations than the long distance or interethnic social ties that developed under socialism, and are characterized by regional patterns and asymmetric movement: Central Asians from poorer states (Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) move to Russia and Kazakhstan as workers and students, but few come from other post-Soviet states to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to work or study. Instead, migrating workers and students come to Kyrgyzstan from China and South Asia.

29Post-Soviet travel infrastructure perpetuates patterns established during the Soviet period. Travel by plane is usually through Moscow, regardless of where one is going in the post-Soviet space, but few people move among the economically lesser developed regions: cross-border mobility is well-developed among Central Asian states, and between Russia and Central Asia, but there is far less between the Caucasus and Central Asia. Members of Caucasian Muslim ethnic groups such as Chechens who were exiled to Central Asia around World War Two dominate movement between these two regions. For example, during numerous flights I have taken between London and Bishkek on British Airways flights that stopped in Yerevan, Armenia, I never saw someone board in Yerevan to travel to Bishkek or vice versa. In fact, many of the Armenians I met were travelling between Yerevan and Los Angeles, where roughly forty percent of Armenian Americans live (Wikipedia). Nonetheless, people from different parts of the Soviet Union do end up migrating and working together in cosmopolitan centres, including some centres, such as Istanbul, that were not part of Soviet-era mobilities, but are important trading centres linking the Middle East and post-Soviet Eurasia. The effects of Soviet-era cosmopolitanism thus shape post-Soviet economic ties and migration for work, but have resulted in fewer ongoing social ties.

30Soviet-era cosmopolitanism has significant ties to mobility practices of the Russian Empire involving trade, education, and military expansion and governance. But Muslim Central Asia and the Caucasus were also linked internally and externally by cosmopolitan mobilities even before China and Russia conquered the regions. Many cities were important for trade, while some, such as Bukhara and Turkistan, were also important centres of Islamic education and pilgrimage. Education, political ties, and trade motivated travel and resettlement to and from the Ottoman Empire, China, Russia, and British India.

31Looking further into the past, we find several millennia of important translocal mobilities in Central Asia: prominent examples are the conquests of Alexander the Great, the arrival of Greek settlers in Greco-Bactria (Holt 1989), and the Sogdian traders and literati moving among the Chinese, Sasanian, and Turkic Empires during the first millennium (de La Vaissière 2005, Rose 2016). In a different manner, nomadic pastoralists lived highly mobile lives that sometimes brought them into close contact with urban and settled society, but because their mobile economy offered greater wealth and flexibility, they generally maintained independent political and military practices that enabled both defence and occasional conquest. Nomads were willing participants in trade, but if they took up urban or cosmopolitan lifestyles most remained somewhat separate as conquerors or as soldiers serving those in power (Barfield 1993, di Cosmo 2002).

32The Mongol conquest created some of the most important and long-lasting spatial networks for cosmopolitan formations connecting Central and Inner Asia, the Caucasus, Iran, and nearby regions. Merchants, officials, scholars, soldiers, and craftspeople moved great distances and distributed products and practices widely throughout the Mongol empire and its successor states. There is also a long history of Caucasian and Central Asian people moving as refugees and exiles due to conflicts, or because ruling groups have relocated them as settlers, farmers, and soldiers. This includes groups such as the Sibe and Taranchi, who were moved by Qing China’s leaders to the Ili Region of Dzungaria in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The so-called Volga Germans were recruited by Catherine the Great of Russia to help promote rural agricultural development in the eighteenth century, but many later moved, along with Russian agriculturalists, to Central Asia as settlers. Refugees fleeing conflicts include Kalmyks in the seventeenth century from Siberia and Dungans in the nineteenth from China. More recently, some of the largest movements involved the deportations of entire ethnic groups from Soviet border zones, particularly in the Caucasus and Korean border areas, to Central Asia under Stalin in the period around World War Two. Central Asians also repeatedly fled from conflict, collectivization, and hunger in both Russian and Chinese Central Asia, with significant groups of Kazakhs and Kyrgyz ending up as far abroad as Turkey, and Kalmyks in New Jersey in the United States. Each large-scale movement has resulted in continuing translocal mobility practices connecting these widespread communities.


33This sketch of movement and cosmopolitan identities across time in Central Asia is intended to direct attention to the final issue I wish to raise in this foreword. The capacity to move within and establish ongoing connections across space raises questions about how these relate to time, which plays an important role in movement but differs fundamentally as an experience, despite often being misleadingly described as a ‘fourth dimension’. In the preceding paragraphs, I intentionally presented Central Asian history in a somewhat disjointed way to stimulate reflection upon more voluntary movements in time, through imagination, memory, and narrative.

34Obviously, sequences of events or experiences in time, or even sequences of mental associations and perceptions, occur in contiguous moments of ‘real’ time. Nonetheless, memory, imagination, and social activities such as planning or narrative offer the power to reorganize events in time into meaningful associations that help make sense of experience. We can identify varieties of temporal translocality (transtemporality) that emerge both from sequences of experience in time, as well as from techniques that bring multiple moments together in consciousness. Transtemporality encompasses ways that people communicate with each other across time, carry out culturally meaningful life cycle rituals together, and invoke ideologically meaningful temporal formations around concepts such as civilization, economic development, or modernity. Movement through time is shaped and managed within social relations, and people rely on interactive social cognition to create futures and interpret pasts, to remember and plan. Communication, planning, and memory are in turn vital to organizing spatial mobility.

35Communication media enable forms of co-presence that transcend distance in both time and space, although in profoundly different ways. Interactive dialogic communication has to take place synchronously, regardless of how far apart people are in space, while the converse, communication across time, is possible among people in the same or different places. In fact, both memory and technologies such as writing can be seen as ways a person communicates with him or herself. Writing, objects, public representations, and memories all help construct continuity among different moments of experience and thus help constitute individual and collective subjectivities.

36One does not move voluntarily through time in the way that one can in space, but memory and imagination are tools for engaging with time and our passage through it. People have considerable control over physical movement in space, although they experience many constraints, while movement in ‘real’ time is continual, outside of people’s control, and shared by all. Access to the past may differ depending upon memory capacity, or technologies for documenting, storing and retrieving, but people cannot shift in time to experience a different past or future. Everyone moves together in time. Although some people aim to recreate or reinhabit pasts or control movement into the future, they are simply creating a present that they believe is more like a desired past or future. Their ability to create such presents may reflect unequal access to resources and imaginaries in the present. Understanding the extent and expression of choice and agency in such situations is an important part of research into transtemporal practices.

37Questions about spatial and temporal translocality and the relationships between them have only begun to be explored. The varied and rich chapters in this volume contribute to this effort. As Barak Kalir points out in his afterward, translocality helps overcome the kind of methodological regionalism reflected in the area studies paradigm, and reorients study towards the mobile subjects themselves. I would add that analysis of transtemporality can help overcome methodological contemporaneity and explore the complex ways people position themselves within time.

38Most of the present chapters consider people’s experiences and representations of temporal transformations as part of personal lived experience. However, those by Kamoludin Abdullaev, Henryk Alff, and Svetlana Jacquesson also investigate the ways people imagine and construct shared pasts and use them in social practices. Translocal and transtemporal perspectives study the ways people make lives amidst connections to different times, places, and people through movement, communication, and imagination. They reorient us from the imposition of institutional, legal, political, economic, or scholarly containers and boundaries that we use to purify our collections of objects and subjects, make our generalizations more accurate and our knowledge more stable. Analysis of mobile subjectivities draws us closer to people’s experiences as they make sense of and move among different places and times.



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Researcher in the Department of Anthropology and Ethnology at Uppsala University, Sweden. He received his Ph. D. in the fields of Folklore and Anthropology from Indiana University in 1998. He has carried out field studies in Kyrgyzstan and the Xinjiang region of China since 1989, and published extensively on Central Asian history, narrative, performing arts, social relations and the economy. His current project ‘Embedded in History’ investigates the interrelations of historical knowledge and material and expressive practices in the Talas Valley in Kyrgyzstan.


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