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Subversive mobilities

Cohen, Erik, Cohen, Scott and Li, Xiang (Robert) (2017) Subversive mobilities Applied Mobilities, 2 (2). pp. 115-133.

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There has been an inherent bias in studies of ‘mobility regimes’ toward the perspective of the authorities. This article suggests the concept of ‘subversive mobilities’ to offer a novel perspective on the construct of mobilities regimes, by stressing the ways such regimes are penetrated by adversaries through diverse routes and practices, despite the regimes’ various control and defense mechanisms. We investigate how ‘smugglers’ make use of weaknesses in existing mobility regimes to facilitate their subversion, using three case studies of subversive mobilities, smuggling of Rohingya migrants, of Colombian cocaine and of South African rhino horns, to substantiate the potential of our approach. The subversive mobilities of all three case studies reveal some common traits: a multiplicity of routes and means of travel, informal personal networks based on trust and retribution rather than formal organization, and interconnected series of assemblages of differently involved actors. We claim that the continued success of ‘smugglers’ to subvert the existing mobility regimes is their greater flexibility: they tend to be pro-active, initiating new routes and means of movement, and the cooperation of illicit and legitimate role-bearers, while the mobility regimes are mostly reactive, giving the former at least a temporary advantage over the latter. Our approach leads to a more inclusive and dynamic view of mobilities regimes, and enables a better understanding of why the ‘smuggling’ of goods and ‘trafficking’ in people is increasingly successful, despite the efforts of mobilities regimes to block these activities.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > School of Hospitality and Tourism Management
Authors :
Cohen, Erik
Li, Xiang (Robert)
Date : 4 April 2017
DOI : 10.1080/23800127.2017.1305217
Copyright Disclaimer : © 2017 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Uncontrolled Keywords : Mobility regimes; Subversion; Smuggling; Rohingya; Cocaine; Rhino horn
Depositing User : Clive Harris
Date Deposited : 13 Sep 2017 08:45
Last Modified : 16 Jan 2019 18:56

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