Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 July 2019
‘Mobility’ does not appear in either of the original editions of Raymond Williams's Keywords, although the concept is implicit in a number of entries, not least ‘city’ and ‘country’, where the dynamics of rural exodus and urbanization are seen as major drivers in the formation of modern cultures and societies. The term is included, however, in New Keywords (Berland 2005), where it is one of several newly introduced cognate words – others include ‘diaspora’, ‘movements’ and ‘space’ – that betoken the increasing importance of various forms of mobility in social, political and cultural analysis. The term first appeared in the sixteenth century, describing, in the Latin phrase mobile vulgus, groups of people whose gathering was seen as threatening or dangerous – elements that continue to be reflected in the association of mobile populations with various forms of moral panic. New Keywords extends this etymology to bring the term up to date, stressing its current associations with questions of physical immobility and disability. A recent volume explores this range further by offering essays on a number of ‘keywords of mobility’ (Salazar and Jayaram 2016, 2), an acknowledgement that ‘[i] n many parts of the world, mobility is seen as an important way of belonging to today's society’.
Various forms of mobility – of which ‘travel’ may be seen as just one – are central to the genesis and production of travel writing. It is the traveller's mobility that distinguishes him or her from the ‘travellees’ met en route, although anthropologist James Clifford reminds us in his influential essay ‘Traveling Cultures’ (1997b) that no culture is in stasis, and that ‘travelling’ and ‘dwelling’ often exist in a complex and interdependent relationship. The assertion of the centrality of mobility to analyses of culture and society has been underlined by Mimi Sheller, John Urry and others, not least in the development of what they call the ‘new mobilities paradigm’ (Hannam et al. 2006).
Such an emphasis on mobility and movement is also an invitation to explore the ‘complex relational dynamics’ that link the phenomenon to immobility – and to the key questions regarding ‘who and what is demobilized and remobilized across many different scales, and in what situations mobility or immobility might be desired options, coerced, or paradoxically interconnected’ (Sheller 2011, 2).