Book review: Frictions in cosmopolitan mobilities
Rodanthi Tzanelli. 2021. Frictions in cosmopolitan mobilities: The ethics and social practices of movement across cultures. Cheltenham, UK & Northampton, MA, USA: Edward Elgar Publishing. 208 pages.
Frictions in Cosmopolitan Mobilities’ author Rodanthi Tzanelli takes us on a journey of discovery of modes of being and belonging in the world. According to her, ‘world-making’, as well as the making of the self, happens through time and space and with different media through which humans express their creativity. She speaks of a ‘cross-disciplinary project’ in the sense that ‘the researcher moves across disciplines, but has a sociological centre (a bit like any pilgrim)’.
Frictions in Cosmopolitan Mobilities is as much about metaphysical movement as it is about physical movement, if not more so. By exploring alternative ways of being mobile, Tzanelli analyses the way we produce spaces and the self. She believes we create knowledge through the mobility of ideas. It is also through this either physical or mental journeying that people ‘create and inhabit worlds’ (page 20). By saying ‘selfies are travel’ (p. 103), she portrays popular culture as a vector of social (im)mobilities.
The techniques she employs are ‘bokeh’ (taking an image/picture with a focus on one aspect and the blurring of the rest) and the selfie, which according to her is a creation of digital popular culture. Both techniques give us a close-up of cultural trends and circle around (self-)representation.
Zooming in on the inner workings and the effects of the film Joker, she explains the links between bokeh and selfie culture. The film is about a disenfranchised young man turned vicious killer. At some point, the protagonist who suffers from mental illness and dresses like a clown does a now famous dance on the Highbridge stairs in the Bronx, New York. This site has now become a destination for all kinds of digital and modern pilgrims who come to this spot, and only this spot, in the Bronx, to take a photo or a video doing the Joker dance. In sharp contrast stand the people who live in the Bronx and may come from this deprived background that created Arthur Fleck, the man who would later become the Joker. These are the people onto whom hospitality is forced.
The phenomenon of a space becoming a tourist attraction due to a film can disrupt the routine and sense of privacy of the people who live and go about their lives in the area. This is one example of a (forced) interaction that creates frictions, especially since the cosmopolitan tourists’ presence often negates the (forced) hosts’ ‘historical presence’ (p. 112). The people who have lived in places long before they became film tourist sites are forced to be hospitable to a crowd they never asked to come and who rarely generate any positive change in the hosts’ lives.
In the case study of the ‘Joker Stairs’ in the Bronx, the tourists’ hypermobility contrasts with the hosts’ social immobility. This ties back to the initial contradiction of the Joker Stairs: the people who re-enact the Joker dance on these stairs are very far from the lived realities of its protagonist. Arthur Fleck/the Joker belongs to the socially immobile, longing for social recognition, and therefore has more in common with the forced hosts than with the tourists/pilgrims.
The author also links film tourism to pilgrimage in the way some film sites acquire an almost religious importance. However, she also underlines that if at no point the person visiting a place turns to introspection, they are no longer a pilgrim but a simple tourist.
Cosmopolitan frictions are then the result of social and physical mobilities and immobilities that clash. They involve finding or making one’s own place in the world and among other people.
At the intersection of sociology, mobility justice and ethics, identity and cultural theory, and urban studies, Tzanelli manages to draw a multidimensional map of identity and world-making. For a reader who is not familiar with the philosophers’ and sociologists’ work she draws on, it can be difficult to connect all the dots and one may not get as much out of this read as someone who already has a certain academic background. It is clear that the complex language used is a reflection of the complexities of making and being in the world. While not accessible to everyone, this innovative framework and approach suggest that an outside-the-box, non-linear reflection can help to better conceptualise human existence.
The eBook version is priced from £20/$26 from eBook vendors while in print the book can be ordered from the Edward Elgar Publishing website – or found at your local college library.
Lena grew up in Luxembourg. She completed an MA in International Relations and Literature in a World Context at the University of Aberdeen and spent a year at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. During her MSc in Migration Studies at the University of Oxford, her research focused on EU development and migration politics in West Africa and its colonial legacies. She currently works for Luxembourg’s development cooperation agency in Senegal, and is completing an MSc in Global Ethics and Justice. In her free time, Lena loves to travel, read and volunteer with her local scout group. Lena is an editor at Routed Magazine.