Draft: Lecture 6 (spring semester). Precarity, Immobility and Indigeneity


Sociological and post/colonial stratifications of im/mobility

Bauman (1998:86) described the stratifications of postmodern consumer society in terms of freedom, or lack of freedom of mobility. The de-bordered (de-territorialised) freedom of mobility belongs to the realms of the world’s ‘tourists’, while the world’s vagabonds suffer stasis and forced or ‘unfree’ mobilities. He later differentiated between individualized and deracinated Western consumers and the ‘wasted lives’ of the rest who suffer forms of stasis (Bauman, 2004). Agency over mobility is dichotomised between those who ‘cannot at will leave their place’ are the ‘ruled’, and those ‘rulers’ able to ‘be elsewhere’ (Bauman 2001: 120).

… postcolonial theorists caution against conceiving of freedom in terms of movement, arguing that freedom of occupancy and place is just as important for indigenous and other colonised people.

Historical legacies

Within the 19th century paradigm of liberalism, an individual who transgressed the norms of labour discipline and thus became a ‘pauper’ could be compelled to enter the workhouse system of forced labour. This form of stasis constituted, as Duvell and Jordan observe, a loss of the rights of mobility and association, and thus a loss of substantive citizenship and the liberal status of moral equality.[1] Such disorderly subjects were guilty of transgressing the liberal principle of property rights inasmuch as their poverty represented both a burden upon the ‘common wealth’ and a refusal of marketised discipline (Duvell and Jordan, 2005:97).

Nodes of immobility

Prisons, like refugee camps and immigration detention facilities, are peculiar institutions that function at one end of a continuum of social and physical mobility and immobility. The prison works to forcibly confine and isolate prisoners from the wider community, and then employs regimented and authoritarian regimes and architecture to further confine their mobility inside the prison.

For example:

  • Aboriginal youths arrested in regional Australia
  • Rejected asylum seekers incarcerated in the UK;
  • English sink estate residents incarcerated for involvement in the informal economy, including drugs

In the first example a typical trajectory involves conflict and poverty and irregular international migration, the conviction of the non-resident for a poverty-related crime, forced stasis through imprisonment and detention, and then forced deportation. This confined territorial circulation is also confined social mobility: the escape from insecurity and poverty promised through emigration or lowers the migrant to the status of criminal and then returns her to increasingly impoverished conditions.

Many of the people in English prisons come from sink estates marked by sustained poverty, and unemployment, often in former manufacturing and mining conurbations. These communities often comprise post-war immigrants from former colonies, new groups of asylum-seeking immigrants, and static British residents. The first two groups experience postcolonial and globalised displacement before entrenched stasis in the estate.  In the latter (English resident) aspect, there is a displacement from the habitas of manufacturing or mining, prior to entrenched stasis and social immobility.[1] In this regard there is a partial similarity with the confinements of Aboriginal people (refugees from the land they still inhabit). These multicultural communities circulate between the welfare, justice and penal systems and the informal economy.

Carceral continuum


Unfree Labour, Precarity and Hyper-precarity

Human trafficking is one form of ‘unfree labour migration’, and vulnerability to this form of exploitation as ‘hyper-precarity’ involving neoliberal globalisation, socio-legal status, and micro-level experiences/circumstances ( Lewis et al., 2015).

O’Connell Davidson (2015) and others critique liberal (ideological) and neo-abolitionist frameworks of trafficking as ‘modern slavery’, which individualise trafficking as the result of individual malign actors and individual incapacity, isolates it from other forms of labour exploitation, and misrepresent contemporary exploitation in terms of an inadequate account of chattel slavery. Instead, Phillips (2011)  views unfree labour as intrinsic to global economic networks, and thus as the result of adverse inclusion within the global economy, even or particularly where that inclusion is predicated on forms of social exclusion (for example, in terms of ‘race’, ethnicity, gender, nationality).

Incommensurability and The right to remain



[1] Charlesworth, 2000. Charlesworth’s study of a working class community in Rotherham shows that the disappearance of traditional work and its way of life changes resident’s sense of place and ontological security so that those reliant on precarious and poorly paid labour come to be seen and experience themselves as ‘aliens among their own species’ (9).



Anderson, Bridget, Us and Them, …

Bauman, Z. ‘Tourists and Vagabonds’, in Globalization: The Human Consequences, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1989

Bauman, Z. (1991) Modernity and the Holocaust, Cambridge: Polity

Bauman, Z. (2001) Liquid modernity, Cambridge: Polity.

Bauman, Z. (2004) Wasted lives: modernity and its outcasts, Cambridge: Polity.

Brenner, R. (1999), ‘Globalization as Re-territorialisation: The re-scaling of Urban Governance in the European Union’, Urban Studies, Vol. 36, No 3. Carfax, Taylor and Francis, 1999, pp., 431-451

Blagg, H. (2016), From terra nullius to terra liquidus? Liquid modernity and the Indigenous Other, in Anna Eriksson. Punishing the Other: The social production of immorality revisited, Taylor and Francis.

Charlesworth, C. (2000), A Phenomenology of Working Class Experience, 2000

Davidson O’Connell, J. (2015), Modern Slavery: The Margins of Freedom. Houndsmills, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan

Duvell. F and Jordan, B. (2005) Migration: The Boundaries of Equality and Justice, London, Polity Press.

De Georgio, A (2006) Rethinking the Political Economy of Punishment: Perspectives on post-Fordism and Penal Politics, Aldershot: Ashgate.

Gidwani, V. and Kalayanakrishnan, S. (2003) ‘Circular Migration and the Spaces of Cultural Assertion’, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 93, No. 1.

Lewis, H. Dwyer, P. Hodkinson, S. and Waite, L. (2015), Precarious Lives: Forced Labour, Exploitation and Asylum, Policy Press, University of Bristol.

Makere S-H, (2013), The New Imperial Order: Indigenous Responses to Globalization, Zed Books

Phillips, N. (2013b) ‘Unfree labour and adverse incorporation in the global economy: comparative perspectives on Brazil and India’, Economy and Society, vol 42, no 2, pp 171-96. Phillips, N. and Mieres,



Author: shabbycheek

Lecturer and researcher in intersectional cultural studies, historical sociology, American and migration studies. Working in China on America, British, Australian and Chinese social justice issues using Feminist materialist, post-Marxist (Gramscian), Critical Race Studies and post-colonial perspectives.

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