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Moving Matters: People, Goods, Power and Ideas

Moving Matters

The social consequences of the mobility of people and goods are the central focus of the Moving Matters programme group.

We explore migrating people and moving commodities as well as the shifting networks - of solidarity, remittances, knowledge, meaning and power - that result from such practices. These networks may range from the local to the transnational. The approach is sociological and anthropological, with an emphasis on the historical dimension. We are interested in drawing comparisons between cases, periods and networks as well as in analysing relationships at large distances (so-called ‘teleconnections'). We study how mobility and immobility are mediated by constantly changing power relations. Methodologically, we favour fieldwork and an immersion of the researcher in the researched community, locality or network.

The scope of this programme group is global in response to an urgent need to push social-science theorisation beyond the dominance of European and North American area studies. Our research expertise is concentrated in a variety of societies in Asia, Latin America and Africa, though the group welcomes scholars working on social consequences of the increased mobility of people, goods and ideas anywhere in the world.

Examples of specific projects are illegal but licit flows, the effects of remittances on migrants' regions of origin and commodity chains, hegemonic discourses of modernism and development, the formation of states and civil societies, the role of popular intellectuals and social movements.

Programme group leaders

Dr. S. (Shanshan) Lan

Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

Programme group: Moving Matters: People, Goods, Power and Ideas

Research staff

Our projects

  • The reconfiguration of whiteness in China - privileges, precariousness, and racialised performances (CHINAWHITE)

    Shanshan Lan examines the multiple and contradictory constructions of whiteness in China as a result of the rapid diversification of white migrants in the country and the shifting power balances between China and the West. Existing literature on white westerners in Asia mainly focuses on transnational elites.

    The rising number of middle- and lower-stratum of white migrants in China deserves special attention due to substantial tensions and discrepancies in their experiences of racial privilege, economic insecurity, and legal vulnerability. Lan will conduct research on daily life encounters between various groups of white migrants and Chinese in five domains:

    1. State policy regarding international migrants in China
    2. The ESL industry (teaching English as a second language)
    3. The media, fashion, and entertainment industries
    4. Transnational business and entrepreneurship
    5. Interracial romance. 

    Three major research questions frame her project.

    First, what are the symbolic and material advantages and disadvantages of being white in China’s thriving market economy and consumer culture? Second, how is whiteness racialised in relation to blackness and other immigrant minority identities? And third, how are multiple versions of whiteness produced, interpreted, negotiated, and performed through daily life interactions between white migrants and Chinese? 

    Dr. S. (Shanshan) Lan

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Programme group: Moving Matters: People, Goods, Power and Ideas

  • Ecological Community Engagements: Imagining sustainability and the water-energy-food nexus in urban South African environments

    Water, food and energy insecurity and precarity, synthesised as the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus, highlight the need for creative imagining. We take a transdisciplinary approach to engage critically with understandings of these complex problems. To discover and understand the imaginations and innovations that could steer us to a sustainable future, we propose to work in very local, urban contexts, where WEF challenges reflect the legacies of Apartheid and colonialism. Using a case study of systems thinking in practice, we will advance socio-political understandings of responses to complex, interconnected but spatially and temporally dispersed problems, and critique discourses of resilience, sustainability, community engagement and citizen science designed to address them. Working with Citizen Eco-Labs in Johannesburg, Mankweng (Limpopo), and Alice (Eastern Cape), we aim to describe community-based understandings of WEF precarity and understandings, responses and actions to regenerate damaged ecologies, and analyse how ongoing collaborations between community members, community-based organisations and multiple public and private partners enable socially-inclusive, ecocultural responses to the environment. Drawing on local understandings of the WEF-Nexus, through participatory methods of engagement, we will develop best practice methodologies for partnerships that can contribute to improving livelihoods, the environment, and wellbeing. 

    Prof. dr. E.M. (Eileen) Moyer

    Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences

    Dep. Anthropology