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Towards an anthropology of cultural mobilities

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Human mobilities, whether horizontal or vertical, internal or boundary-crossing, are infused with cultural meaning, manifested in metacultural discourses and imaginaries. While cultural elements clearly have an impact on people's mobility, the way people move across borders also exerts strong influence on their culture and society. Studying the interaction between culturally rooted imaginaries of mobility and real physical movements, a relation coloured by global media images as well as personal accounts, helps us understand the multiple meanings behind contemporary migratory phenomena. Cultural anthropology, as a discipline situated between the social sciences and the humanities, is ideally suited to analyse critically the complex dynamics between mobile cultures and human mobility. This article, based on long-term fieldwork in Tanzania, exemplifies what an anthropological take on the interplay between culture and mobility may look like. Placed in their wider historical and socio-economic context, I discuss migratory movements and their cultural representations in Tanzania. An analysis of the ethnographic data reveals how imaginaries and social relations concerning mobility are materialized, enacted and inculcated. The particular case of the Maasai people, who are entangled in an intricate web of cultural mobilities, illustrates the complexity of the issues at stake.
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Keywords: Tanzania; anthropology; culture; ethnography; immobility; mobility

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Leuven.

Publication date: 2010-06-01

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  • The course of cultures at both local and global levels is crucially affected by migratory movements. In turn, culture itself is turned migrant. This journal will advance the study of the plethora of cultural texts on migration produced by an increasing number of cultural practitioners across the globe who tackle questions of culture in the context of migration. They do this in a variety of ways and through a variety of media. To name but a few relevant aspects of this juncture of migration and culture, questions of dislocation, travel, borders, diasporic identities, transnational contacts and cultures, cultural memory, the transmission of identity across generations, questions of hybridity and cultural difference, the material and oral histories of migration and the role of new technologies in bridging cultures and fostering cultural cross-pollination will all be relevant. Methodologies of research will include both the study of 'texts' and fieldwork.
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