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Dialogue on mobility between F. Dureau, P. Lannoy, J.-P. Orfeuil and T. Ramadier. 1 : The origins of a field

Research notes
Begin: May 2020
End: May 2020

As part of the 16th edition of the MSFS symposium “Spatial Mobilities, Methodologies for Data Collection and Analysis,” four experts (Françoise Dureau, Pierre Lannoy, Thierry Ramadier and Jean-Pierre Orfeuil) participated in a round table on the evolution of the field of spatial mobility . Coming from different backgrounds and adopting different theoretical perspectives, these researchers took a retrospective look at how mobility emerged as a research topic in their respective fields. The discussion shed new light on the disciplinary singularities and transdisciplinary developments shaping mobilities research.

Research participants


Discussions presented by Laurent Cailly and Nicolas Oppenchaim

This round table was held as part of the research Ending automobile dependence (periurban and rural mobility). The second part is available: Dialogue on mobility between F. Dureau, P. Lannoy, J.-P. Orfeuil and T. Ramadier. 2 : A multidisciplinary perspective.

Spatial mobilities: a new world or a simple reformulation of social issues?

Pierre Lannoy: To begin with, I would like to say a few words about the history of the notion of mobility in sociology. To illustrate this, I chose this issue of the journal Cahiers internationaux de sociologie from 2005, titled “Mobility and Modernity.” I chose it because it was published at an exceptional time for sociology, for three reasons. First, with regard to the date: it was 2005 and this was the first time that, to my knowledge, a general interest journal in the field of sociology devoted an issue to mobility - not as social mobility - at a time when a series of other books on the subject were appearing. So here we see a kind of momentum in the emergence of spatial mobility in the field of sociology, which corresponds to what the English-speaking world would later come to call the mobility turn. The second reason I chose this issue is that it brings together three different currents, three ways of relating to the issue of mobility among sociologists. There are two extreme positions, which lie at the poles of a continuum. The first is to say: “Because of mobilities, sociology has to be entirely rebuilt, we’re entering a new world, everything needs to be redone.” The other pole is to say: “There’s nothing new under the sun, and the emergence of mobilities doesn’t change anything for sociologists.” Then there is a third intermediate pole that I will come back to shortly.

Rethinking the whole of sociology on the basis of mobilities...

The first pole, represented in this journal by John Urry's position, is to say: “Mobilities have changed the world, so sociologists also need to change their conceptual frameworks.” For him, we should abandon the idea of a society with stable groups and nations in particular, when all of sociology since Durkheim and Weber has been built on this concept of stable social ensembles and the idea of nation-states. So, for Urry we should reconstruct methods and concepts to theorize a world that is a mobile. That is the central thesis. We have done a classical sociology in which we became interested in mobility in stable ensembles. This is the notion of social mobility: movements are observed in a stable space such as that of professional positions for instance, or social classes. Today, however, it is the opposite: we must think how stabilizations operate when taking the form of identities, of solidarity, etc. in a mobile world. It's a reversal of perspective. ... or studying mobility in the traditional frameworks of sociology?

The other position, represented in this journal by Alain Bourdin's article, is that “there’s nothing new under the sun.” It is the idea that sociology was born with modernity, and that modernity contains within it the manifestations of mobility. The individualization of behaviors, for example, the individualization of lifestyles is at the very heart of modernity. While it takes on new forms, it is a part of modernity; the same goes for urbanization, democratization, etc. These are central elements of modernity. Of course, there are contemporary inflections, but that doesn’t change the purview of sociology at all. That’s what the title of Bourdin's article means: “Mobility and the Program of Sociology.” In fact, Bourdin concludes his article by saying that “we should definitely not go towards a sociology of mobilities,” in the sense of a disciplinary specialty. In fact, if we look at mobilities, we touch on the big questions that are those of sociology, which is an offspring of modernity. These two positions are therefore quite opposite: the first asks us to reformulate these issues differently, while the second asks us to study them further.

An intermediate position: reshaping the founding questions of sociology

And then we also have a series of articles, taking the position of the founders of the MSFS (Mobilités Spatiales, Fluidité Sociale) 1 group, which basically say: “There are clearly a series of trends that are linked to modernity, but today, spatial mobilities, by their scale and by the diversification of their modalities, require us to update certain research tools, certain concepts, and to redesign and reexamine the central questions of the discipline from the study of contemporary mobilities.” In line with this, new concepts are created, such as Vincent Kaufmann’s notion of “motility,” which is actually a reinterpretation of the question of resources or capital, depending on the vocabulary we use. Another example is Jean Ollivro’s idea about mobile classes (2005), which is also a reinterpretation of classes. We can also cite Eric Lebreton's recent book on Mobility and Scattered Society (2016), a reinterpretation of classic themes, where what is at stake is the re-articulation of classic sociology questions, re-informed by the question of mobility.

So, we have three positions that are still present today and that differentiate between English-speaking and French-speaking approaches. It seems to me that French-speaking approaches are closer to the second and third positions - that is, re-examining the founding questions of sociology - whereas English-speaking approaches call for something completely new.

The return of mobilities in sociology after being eclipsed for a long time

And the last reason why this issue is important is that it actually signals the resurgence of how spatial mobilities were already being treated in the 1920s-1930s in connection with the Chicago School that was very interested in mobility, not as a subject matter in itself, but as a way to better understand social change. This social change was very visible in major American cities at the time, notably in Chicago, and one of the main aspects of these changes was mobility. This included international migration, with all the communities that arrived in Chicago; internal migration within the United States, such as African Americans from the South moving to northern industrial cities; and then daily mobilities. Sociologists in Chicago witnessed the advent of phones and cars, for instance, which are used on a daily basis, and so they observed these changes. They studied these spatial mobilities as part of social and urban changes. So in the early 2000s, there was a renewed interest among sociologists in daily mobility. This had been forgotten for almost half a century through the influence of several sociologists, notably the American (originally Russian) sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, who in his 1927 book Social Mobility wrote that “spatial mobilities, whether residential or daily, are epiphenomena, secondary phenomena, which have their roots in more fundamental processes, including the question of social mobility, a situation and movements within a space that is not primarily geographical and material, but a social space.” And so spatial mobility was swept under the rug in sociology: if you look for instance at a book from the 1970s, Ten Great Notions of Sociology, you find the notion of mobility but it is about social mobility. Not one line on spatial mobility: daily and spatial mobilities were dealt with by other disciplines, such as geography or traffic and transport engineering. This renewed sociological interest in spatial mobilities has been driven, for example, in France by Isaac Joseph or Christian Topalov who rediscovered the Chicago School, in Belgium by Jean Rémy with the School of Leuven, by Michel Bassand in Switzerland or Vincent Kaufmann. And let’s not forget a book that isn’t often quoted but which, in my opinion, had a huge influence on how we re-interrogated the idea of mobility, namely Marc Augé’s book, Non-lieu, published in 1992, that generated a lot of debate, probably even more so in the English-speaking world than in the French-speaking world, but which was one of the first to put the question of mobility and places on the agenda in sociology.

Beyond disciplines, the weight of thematic segmentations

Françoise Dureau: For my part, I am a geographer and demographer, so what I am going to say is influenced by the fact that I come from these two disciplines. I also want to make clear is that I don’t study spatial mobilities for their own sake. They are useful to help me to understand certain urban territorial dynamics.

Analyzing mobilities by way of demographics: the initial precedence of the residential

I have worked a lot on demographics, and demography looks at how people relate to places through a particular notion: residence, that is, where a person lives. This initially led me to the analysis of migrations, which are changes in residence. Then to issues of intra-urban residential mobility, and I slowly realized that it was not enough, and that I had to include an extra dimension that was more related to daily mobility. On this point, I think it is important to specify what kind of mobility we are working on, because the siloed and specialized subfields within the field of spatial mobility studies are related to the fact that each one of these fields developed around a specific form of spatial mobility. We have specialists in international migration, internal migration, intra-urban residential mobility and daily mobility. No one overtly claims to be a specialist, everyone will talk to you about mobility in general even though 9 times out of 10 they study a specific form of mobility.

In demography, there was no interest in daily mobility because there was no change of residence associated with this type of movement; therefore, daily mobility was excluded from the field of demography for a very long time. Moreover, while we might assume that demographers study migration, for a very long time this subject was treated only as a disruptive phenomenon of other subject matters considered to be of purely demographic interest: fertility, mortality, marriage. And originally, during my studies at IDUP (Demography Institute Of Panthéon Sorbonne University) in the 1970s, that was really the case! If we look at textbooks in demographic analysis at the time, migration was only a disruptive phenomenon of “real” demographic phenomena. It took pioneers at INED (Institut national d'études démographiques) such as Daniel Courgeau or Philippe Collomb to assert that migration was a legitimate research object for demographers.

The weight of institutional segmentations I believe that this segmentation that we see within the field of spatial mobility studies, focusing on specific forms of mobility, is also perpetuated by institutions. There are specialized research institutions called EPSTs (Public Scientific and Technological Establishments), which are specialized in a field of research. INRETS, now IFSTTAR, was for transport, daily mobility; INED was for residential mobility, internal migration; while a laboratory like Migrinter was for international migration. These divisions play a role, for example in how research is funded. Finally, forty years after authors such as Daniel Courgeau (1988) called for and re-emphasized the importance of having a continuum of forms of mobility - the need for a comprehensive approach to spatial mobility, in terms of systems of relations between individuals and their families - this segmentation is still in effect. Yet when looking at what Daniel Courgeau or Wilbur Zelinsky (1971) or others called for, we can see that the central issue is the relationship between systems of individuals and their families to the different places they use. So in the end, it was not only the object of displacement that was at the heart of the analysis, but the use of different places at different spatial and temporal scales, and the social and territorial effects of that use, and I think that is the real issue. But to study it properly, as these authors and many others have since pointed out, I believe that the only way is to work globally on all forms of mobility.

Conceptual and methodological frameworks specific to each discipline

The effects of these segmentations are reflected in profound differences in concepts and methods, without ever being explicit. Let’s not forget, everyone talks about mobility in general when in fact they’re usually referring only to one form of mobility. I don’t believe that there is any real debate or effort made to promote a global theoretical perspective on spatial mobility. These segmentations also result in a near-total misunderstanding of what is produced outside of each discipline and specific field of study of spatial mobility. In several papers of this symposium, I have noticed bibliographical references on what is called the field of research of mobility biographies. It’s quite interesting to see the introduction of a longitudinal approach to the study of daily mobility. But what is regrettable is that in the references and the content of the articles, the quantitative analysis of the biographies that was performed by demographers, which is published in English, French and Spanish, is totally ignored. We also see recent works by specialists in daily mobility, for example on the links between daily mobility and residential mobility, that don’t take into account all the findings produced over several decades through the development of a biographical approach to residential mobility, a movement in which francophones have held an important place, especially researchers at INED. Segmentations therefore have particularly harmful effects even if everyone remains in their specialized subfield of study.

The significant changes in the research field on mobilities

But there are developments throughout the field of study on residential mobility and migration, just like other fields of study in social sciences. For me, the major inflection in this field of study in France is the introduction of the biographical approach in the 1980s. The famous survey, called the 3B survey [“Triple Biography”] conducted by INED in 1981, led to important advances in the knowledge of residential mobility and its relationship with occupational mobility and family events. There have been other important developments in this field. Over the last few decades, for instance, the approach based on simple economic rationality has been abandoned, and there has been a resurgence of the Chicago School after a period that favored a structuralist approach. There has also been a change in terminology when moving from migration to mobility, as demonstrated by Jacques Brun’s article in the journal Annales de la recherche urbaine, a 1993 issue devoted to mobility. For me, it is a founding article that covers 30 years of the evolution of migration and residential mobility issues in the fields of sociology and geography in France; it covers the evolutions that shaped this whole field of study. In recent decades, the definition of residency as being unique and permanent has been questioned in favor of recognizing the multiple nature of an individual’s location; hence taking into account complex residential practices, and studying forms of circular or temporary mobility that underlie these complex residential systems.

Another evolution is the increasingly frequent transition from an individual unit of analysis to a collective one: the family, the environment, the community. Individuals’ spatial mobilities are then considered as components of social and economic reproduction strategies for families.

The latest development that I also think has recently shaped the study of spatial mobility is a certain revaluing or recognition of immobility. And this comes after decades of promoting mobility, with the underlying idea that mobile or migrant people need a certain capital to achieve their mobility, their movements. This is what we call the selectivity of migration, which is a basic model in demography. In fact, we are slowly realizing that if we consider the changes in environments where individuals live, sometimes it is staying - not leaving - that demands resources, capital and skills. This approach leads us to reconsider spatial immobility and the prior value of mobility.

There is also something of a constant that I wish to point out, which is quite striking when we’re trying to work both on residential mobility and daily mobility in France: we have some seminars that are completely female, those that are on residential mobility and where there are only female researchers, and then we have those about daily mobility - where we fall back into the usual pattern of a world of transport and small cars, in other words, a world of men (audience laughs). And this is something that's pretty constant....

A step-by-step construction: from flows to behaviors

Thierry Ramadier: I won’t talk about disciplinary segmentations, but rather about the various steps that I believe played a part in one peculiar state of affairs: the fact that we generically talk about “mobility” - singular - rather than talking about “mobilities” - plural. Together with two other colleagues, Simon Borja and Guillaume Courty, we asked ourselves: how did this notion of mobility arise? We tried to answer this question in an article that I will draw upon here (Borja et al., 2014). In it, we traced back the evolution of the question of mobility in three fields: the artistic field, the political field and the scientific field. So what I'm going to do is to introduce you to three steps that I think are important, and for each one, I’ll add what was happening from the standpoint of my discipline, psychology. Because with regards to the question of mobility, psychology still doesn’t have much legitimacy or visibility, and that’s why I’m also happy to be able to talk about psychology and mobilities because it’s rare for psychology to be invited to a round table like this.

The first period: mobility as flow

I will associate a concept with each of these steps. The first step revolves around the concept of flow. It was from the 1930s that we began thinking about geographical displacement, what is now called geographic mobilities, but from an engineering approach, especially in the United States: traffic engineers developed the notion of flow to conceptualize and facilitate movements. So here, “movement” is really synonymous with “transportation,” with a special focus on mechanized modes. In fact, the major surveys on movement flows that were held back then focused essentially on these modes. They didn’t talk about walking, for instance. The idea was to optimize traffic through engineering. Travel is seen here as a need, even if now, with hindsight, works like those of Pierre Lannoy or Guillaume Courty on the traffic code show that this technical optimization was also a political construct. It’s the invention of rational movement. The main preoccupation is the idea of traffic fluidity.

So, what happened in psychology during this period that stretched from the 1930s to the mid-1970s when this idea of flow predominated? We see the gradual creation of a branch of psychology called environmental psychology, with the development of a particular analysis method: behavioral mapping. For example, Proshansky, in the 1970s, looked at how patients move around in a psychiatric hospital; but this is still at an individual scale. I would say that these were the first approaches to the study of mobilities; to give you another example, Paul-Henry Chombart de Lauwe, who isn’t a psychologist, established the behavioral map of a student from the 16th arrondissement of Paris, mapping out all the places he went; that's what behavioral mapping is all about. An amazing article was published at that time, by Serge Moscovici who worked extensively on social representations in social psychology, and who published an article in a sociology journal called “Resistance to geographical mobility in cases of career change.” Why was it amazing? Publishing it in 1959, he actually had a rather critical approach to this idea of seeing mobility or immobility as a personality trait, with people being more or less inclined to leave their house. And then he linked professional mobility to geographical mobility, which was quite innovative at that time.

The second period: mobility as an individual movement

The second period ran from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s. Why the mid-1970s? Because Cullen and Godson (1975) published an article that defined mobility as a demand that derived from activity. So here we enter a period where it is the notion of movement that takes over. Mobility here was seen as an individual need. We moved from the regulation of flows to the regulation of individuals, and therefore we worked at the level of the individual. We were in a disaggregated approach - mobilities are a sum of individual behaviors - which is made possible with the emergence of computational abilities and an ever more important mathematical formalization centered on a rational approach to movement, with concepts of utility, rational choices, etc. So it was an approach that still remained centered around engineering, but it starts including economics more and more. As a result, interdisciplinarity becomes really important at that time.

One of the most important problems at that time was the levers of behavioral change, especially in terms of travel modes. Modal change. In this period the main question was: how do we go from cars to public transport? So what about psychology, what place did it have in that period? There were two main trends. There was one where psychology was invited to work on the subjective dimensions of rationality. The goal was to supplement this rational dimension with subjectivities, which typically meant: “What are the distortions in terms of distance that make one prefer a particular place of destination?” - “What distortions in terms of time or cost influence what locations or travel modes people choose?” etc. These are the questions that led psychologists such as Gobol and Louvières to get involved at that time. And then there was also a psychological formalization around the organization of daily trips, that is to say analyzing how decisions about movements are structured. I’m thinking here of Tommy Goerling’s work in Sweden, which also links to a whole section of psychology research that studies the link between representations and movements; on way-findings and orientation, which is therefore an area where psychologists intervene.

There are always little things that fall by the wayside and I am thinking here, at that time, of a study by Françoise Askevis-Leherpeux in 1985; the innovation she introduced was that, from the point of view of psychology, she proposed links between daily mobility and residential mobility. She studied what happens in terms of daily travel before and after moving from Paris to the suburbs, with a quasi-experimental approach. It seems to me that this was a pioneering study on the links between daily mobility and residential mobility.

The third period: mobility as the ability or inability to move

The last period is the one we are in, that of mobilities. It seems to me that it began in the mid-1990s. The idea here is to look at how easy it for someone to move about, rather than, as in the first period, how to facilitate movement itself. This doesn’t mean that the periods are distinct from each other, but rather each step builds on the previous one: the question of flows is always very present in the way we think about mobility. One step doesn’t replace the others. In this period, the central idea is that mobility is more than a trip. This research is greatly influenced by sociology, and it is no coincidence that we use the term mobility, given that within social sciences, it’s in sociology that the term “mobility” appears the most. As Pierre Lannoy reminds us, this isn’t something new, with social mobility. Geographical mobility became more and more like sociology, but mainly at an individual level, paradoxically. The goal now is to study the idea of mobility capacities. Studying people’s ability to move requires looking at the necessary skills to move, and thus seeking to improve individual skills in order to correct inequalities in terms of mobility. As a result, we come to a concept which, by the way, is part of the acronym MSFS: fluidity. But it isn’t traffic fluidity anymore, it’s social fluidity. As Pierre Lannoy was talking about the different currents in sociology earlier - are we in a society that is socially deconstructed and completely fluid and regulated by mobility, or one in which geographical mobilities compound social structures? - this question becomes central, as well as the idea of social fluidity. Lastly, the major point here is that mobility is quite often thought of as a passport to social mobility. And this has a significant impact on the way people think about the social inequalities associated with mobility. The idea is that they remain a need, just like in the phase when mobility was considered simply as movement. Mobilities remain a need and must be facilitated to achieve some level of social equality. So it seems to me that we are in a period where the power relations at play in mobilities are not that clear, and I believe it is these aspects that we should be thinking about.

With regards to psychology, what happened? The method of behavioral mapping was updated. I am thinking here for instance of Sandrine Depeau’s work, where behavioral mapping is analyzed in relation to social prescriptions (those of parents towards their children) and social norms. This seems to me to be a kind of sociohistory of mobilities in which psychology also plays a part, even if it’s a little less visible.

The structuring of the field: a strong English-speaking influence

Jean-Pierre Orfeuil: As I suspected I’d be the oldest person at this round table, I’ll try to go back in time and introduce you to a few people that I consider to be important players, people who influenced the field. They are all English speakers. And then try to see in what context they performed their work, and what was their method and vision of mobility.

Modeling flows

The first, even before the term mobility appeared in the field of daily travel, is Alan Voorhees, with the construction of gravity models. At the time, it corresponded to a social demand, as the United States were starting to build a program for urban highways, and quite paradoxically, people said, “Wait, let’s not overdo it.” So they found a mathematician to apply so-called gravity models in order to separate the segments of the program that corresponded to the highest demand from those that seemed the least useful. He drew a bit from geography, a bit from economics (especially what had been established in the labor market, that is, the value of time and the notion of generalized cost). He was really working like a DIY engineer. In terms of vision, the idea was that the city is completely predictable, we know where people and activities will be located in 20-30 years. From there we can deduce what the travel flows will be and therefore plan the necessary infrastructure accordingly.

His work led to the development of many traffic models. It also paved the way for travel surveys (so-called household interview surveys because all the people in the household are interviewed) that would later come to be used not for planning purposes, but purely to better understand mobility. So that was the starting point before mobility.

Modeling individual trips

At the end of the 1970s, the term mobility appeared in the field of daily travel. Before that, we used to talk about alternating migrations, pendular migrations, in other words, collective phenomena. Talking about mobility means individuality, it means that maybe there are projects behind behaviors, more personal constructions: this is the field of individualization. And this may be a historical coincidence, but as often, it happened at a time when computer processing capabilities were exploding, allowing researchers to study individual motives, because working on individuals requires more processing than working on flows. At that time, many people stood up and said: “Wait a minute, we're not atoms, we're not just objects flung into flows, we're people, so we need to better understand people’s differentiated practices, depending on whether they're men, women, rich, poor, whatever you want.” The researchers who began to emerge in this field were those who created so-called “disaggregated” models, accounting for people’s choice of destination, modes, etc. They developed robust tools (logit and probit models) that calculate the probability of choosing a particular option in a set of possible choices. Basically they were econometricians, and as you probably know econometricians think their social science is the only real one, so we can assume that they weren’t the ones to open up the field. However what is very amusing is that, from time to time, their method was used by sociologists. It’s worth remembering that someone like François de Singly wrote his thesis with disaggregated models to predict who you are going to marry, how many children you will have, basically things that we didn’t think could be modelled.

Helping people achieve their activity program

And then came, from Scandinavia, an important contribution from someone called Hägerstrand who developed what he called a geography of time. It is basically saying: “People have this or that to do, at this location and at that time. Are they able to do so easily, are there inequalities at play, does someone who has to drop off kids at school in the morning have more constraints around which to organize their day afterwards?” This wasn’t something that gave rise to standard models, but it was a very important conceptual tool. Obviously, I’m not saying that it’s thanks to Swedish geographers that shops in cities open during lunch hours, but still, there was a time in France when shops closed for lunch between twelve and two, and then someone like Hägerstrand tells us that this is a time when there are quite a few clients about, i.e. people who work in the city and are on their lunch break. We have to overcome this vision of people who always stay at home and only make “secondary” trips as part of loops. For urban planners in the 1950s and 1960s, the basic principle of urban organization was that people are at home and everything around them should make their daily life easier. What we also owe to Hägerstrand, and I think this is important, is the idea that achieved mobility and projected mobility are two different things. There is a latent demand that isn’t necessarily observable, as not everyone manages to achieve their project or meet their needs... This brings us back to the issue of skills, such as one’s ability or inability to access a car or at least the fastest means of transport. There are people who lack that access or the skills that others have, which is a theme we find today in all areas.

Observe travel change processes

The fourth researcher, Phil Goodwin, worked during the Thatcher years. The British don’t usually have fond memories of that period, but in the world of research, it was extraordinary because everything moved very quickly: for instance, the Tube fare was halved and then doubled again when London voted Labor in again. It was a real laboratory of experiments. Goodwin basically tells us: “I don’t really care about making a thirty-year projection of what mobility will or should be. What I’m interested in are the processes of change.” The focus is on observing and recording all the struggles required for change, to overcome the usual rationalities, and therefore everything that revolves around inertia, the capacity for change, etc. That’s going to be something important. And these are things that belong to the field of psychology, sociology, as well as economics.

Thinking about the circular relationship between mobility and land planning

Finally, the last one I would like to talk about, and who in my opinion is the one who taught us the most without necessarily formulating it himself, since he died of a heart attack at a symposium in 1983, is Yacov Zahavi. In a number of studies conducted throughout the world, including surveys before and after the implementation of supposedly time-saving transport systems, he found that people spent the same amount of time in transport, but it was the space that changed. Zahavi's hypothesis was that we travel in roughly constant amounts of time-budget and monetary budget: we spend between one and one-and-a-half hours a day travelling, and spend overall 10-12% of our resources on buying vehicles or transport fares, etc. Of course, Zahavi’s hypothesis was questioned and discussed (which is normal, it's a normal scientific practice to contradict), but it's a very robust law, it was discussed by engineers, urban planners, psycho-sociologists, economists. So, economists, as usual, said, “No, no, it can't be, because it doesn’t conform to the laws of the economy.” By reformulating things, Zahavi's idea says that urban or city-dwellers in today's world try to maximize spatial opportunities and they do so with a limited budget of time and money. It also harks back to one of the goals of the research, which is to decide whether we are thinking at collective levels, at individual levels or at meso-levels, trying to mix both the individual and the collective. Zahavi's hypothesis is fundamentally a bit individualistic, but at the same time, the result is of course a collective thing, and we're feeding a partly circular system that says “from the moment we have faster or less tiring or less expensive means of transport, we have a possibility to expand spaces,” and therefore we move from an individual phenomenon to a more collective phenomenon. We will then see a lot of literature on urban sprawl, or on an increasingly loose spatial network given people’s activities, as a product of greater mobility, but also on mobility as a factor or feature of social segregation. As we saw in the 19th century, as soon as you start putting elevators in buildings, higher floors aren’t reserved for servants and poor people anymore. Mobility allows for space to be reorganized and if there is a general trend towards segregation - if there is, dare I say, a demand for segregation - mobility is one of the means that facilitates it.

And I will end by saying that, basically, it is also a political issue, in the noble sense of the word. What have we done in the last fifty years by facilitating mobility? What are we doing today by facilitating communications? We transfer power from collectives to individuals. Today, you have public policies aimed at combatting segregation, urban sprawl, etc. that follow many decades of facilitating mobility. At the end of the day, by facilitating mobility, we have facilitated the phenomena we are now trying to combat. I would like to conclude here, and I fully agree with what Françoise Dureau said earlier about how the fields are segmented, there is perhaps another dimension worth taking into account which is this dialogue that we must always have between individual observation and collective consequences. It has long been known that the sum of individual optimums is not a collective optimum, and I believe that mobility issues serve as a strong demonstration of this.


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1  This is the interdisciplinary working group called “Mobilité spatiales fluidité social” (Spatial Mobility Social Fluidity) created in 2002, within the AISLF.


For the Mobile Lives Forum, mobility is understood as the process of how individuals travel across distances in order to deploy through time and space the activities that make up their lifestyles. These travel practices are embedded in socio-technical systems, produced by transport and communication industries and techniques, and by normative discourses on these practices, with considerable social, environmental and spatial impacts.

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Residential mobility

Broadly speaking, residential mobility refers to a household’s change of residence within a life basin.

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Movement is the crossing of space by people, objects, capital, ideas and other information. It is either oriented, and therefore occurs between an origin and one or more destinations, or it is more akin to the idea of simply wandering, with no real origin or destination.

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The Value Of Time

The value of time in the transport economy corresponds to how willing people are to pay, in order to save time. It offers an explanation of the choices people make between different modes of transport after weighing up the financial versus time costs. It is also used to plan and to financially justify a choice of investments made on the basis of time saved by the new infrastructure.

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Associated Thematics :

To cite this publication :

Françoise Dureau et Pierre Lannoy (28 May 2020), « Dialogue on mobility between F. Dureau, P. Lannoy, J.-P. Orfeuil and T. Ramadier. 1 : The origins of a field », Préparer la transition mobilitaire. Consulté le 13 July 2024, URL:

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