University of Southampton OCS (beta), CAA 2012

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Archaeology, mobility and the lived experience
Jim Leary

Last modified: 2011-12-15


Mobility is a fundamental facet of being human, and yet its intangible nature means that it is often a neglected research topic. However, mobilities allow the movement of people, ideas, objects and information from place to place, and person to person – it should be central to archaeology. As well as this, mobility adds colour to the past, enriching and humanizing it.

However, mobility is a complex subject to understand. It does not only depend on the physical environment that can be easily reconstructed using computer technologies, but is to a large degree socially and culturally composed. Mobility varies greatly and is unevenly distributed across and within societies. Some movements are unrestricted, whilst others are bounded; some are acts of resistance, whilst others serve to marginalize people. Some movements, such as dance, can be socially encoded, whilst others are socially discriminatory, affecting, for example, genders differently. Furthermore mobility, whether a long journey or an everyday routine, is embodied and corporeal; it is a physical, tactile and sensuous experience and is often entangled with feelings, emotions and memories. Models of past mobility are largely disengaged from this lived experience, often seeing individuals as objects independent of their social and political world, thus distorting the fluid dynamics of life on the move.

This theoretical paper will discuss many of the different ways of understanding mobility in the past, emphasising the importance of the human-scale experience of movement, and arguing that mobility is and was loaded with meaning and difference.


Mobility; embodiment; lived experience