Rethinking cities through mobilities. Introduction to the seminar series Cities and Mobilities

This is the transcript of the talk I have given at the first seminar. By posting this here I would like to share some thoughts on cities and mobilities that have inspired me to organise the seminar series and to welcome more people to our ongoing conversation at the Centre for Urban Studies. – A.N.


According to a French philosopher Paul Virilio, the city is “not simply a place where one lives, it’s above all a crossroads”.

Most people would see movement, mobility as something secondary to whatever else they are doing in cities – living, working, studying, spending time with their loved ones, shopping, etc. Yet, as this quote suggests and as many other scholars have argued, mobility is at the very origins of the city as a form of human cohabitation. Cities developed at crossroads, around markets, in rivers’ deltas, on seashores and so forth: essentially, wherever people could come together easier and wherever stuff was easier to bring to for exchange.

Nothing and nobody in contemporary cities exists isolated from some form of mobility – local or global. Even if you are a tenth generation Amsterdammer, your ancestors have moved here from somewhere else. The food we eat, the movies we watch, the colleagues we speak to, the postman in your neighbourhood and the post itself – everything and everybody comes from somewhere.

But also we perceive the city while we are on the move, there is simply no other way of engaging with urban fabric and with fellow citizens (te Brömmelstroet et al., 2017). And each way of moving around the city makes you see, smell, touch different things. Your stroll to the bakery, your cycling commute, your daydreaming in a tram.

All the mobilities shaping the city at macro and microscale are interrelated, designed, governed, imbued with meaning (Cresswell, 2010).

Let me illustrate this point very briefly using the example of Amsterdam. Below you see  the map of the city made in 17th century. From its early days, this city was shaped by different forms of mobility – by pilgrimage, by trade-related mobility, by mobilities of refugees, by mobilities of the poor and the rich. Its urban form, its wealth and power have everything to do with particular forms of movement – around the city and around the globe; some of these mobilities were voluntary, others – forced.

map of amsterdam

A. Besnard after Daniel Stalpaert, 1657. Source:


And this is a map of Amsterdam in the 21st century.


Source: Sander van der Drift (2015)

It’s a map from a research project exploring tourist mobilities in Amsterdam using geotagged photos from Flickr (van der Drift, 2015). This map shows most popular routes and tourist hotspots in the city. Visitors come from all parts of the world, yet these global mobilities have profound impact on mobility in the city. Certain streets are closed off for cars, others for cyclists. None of this is uncontested. Add AirBnB to the mix, and you’ll have an idea of some of the most heated debates in the city: whose city Amsterdam is? This question has everything to do with mobility. The right to the city is the also the right to move (Cresswell, 2006) safely and maybe even with pleasure, regardless of one’s physical abilities and looks, income or occupation.

Cities are continuously shaped by mobilities, every moment of the day. And in the seminar series “Cities and Mobilities” we are looking at different dimensions of this process, from global migration to daily commutes. To give you a more specific idea of diversity of subjects that the seminar will cover, I have made a word cloud of the most frequently used words all the submitted abstracts, having excluded the words “urban”, “city” and “mobility”.

Word Frequency Query1

Source: Anna Nikolaeva


Here you can clearly see not only the diversity of topics, but also of disciplines. It is the goal of the seminar series to bring together people from urban planning and anthropology, history and sociology, geography and cultural studies. The aim is to exchange perspectives, to get inspired, to find connections – and to see if we can take this conversation further. But to begin with – to see who is working on mobility in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, and in any places from where people are going to come to the seminar series.

Another goal of the seminar is to give an opportunity to junior researchers to receive feedback on their work-in-progress from the key scholars in the field. The format allows for both a public dialogue and informal face-to-face conversations.

We have already started our journey of exploring cities and mobilities, and you can join any time. Anyone is welcome: this is an open conversation beyond the walls of the “ivory tower” or disciplinary borders. Each of us has plenty of stories about cities and mobilities to share.



I would like to thank the Centre for Urban Studies for the financial and administrative support of the seminar as well as all the guest speakers, presenters and the audience making this seminar series such a fantastic experience.



Cresswell, T. 2010. Towards a Politics of Mobility. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28(1), 17–31.

Cresswell, T. 2006. The Right to Mobility: The Production of Mobility in the Courtroom. Antipode, 38(4), 735–754.

te Brömmelstroet, M. C. G., Nikolaeva, A., Glaser, M. A., Nicolaisen, M., and C. Chan (2017). Traveling together alone and alone together: Mobility and potential exposure to diversity. Applied Mobilities 2(1), 113-129.

Virilio, P. and S. Lotringer. 1997. Pure War. New York: Semiotext(e).

van der Drift, S. 2015. Revealing spatial and temporal patterns from Flickr photography – A case study with tourists in Amstedam. Master thesis.



Cities and Mobilities Seminar Series #2 Cities, Mobility and Diversity with Adrian Favell

The aim of this seminar series is to develop a conversation on how mobilities shape cities as well as to foster exchange and collaboration between scholars from different disciplines and practitioners working on urban mobilities at UvA and beyond.

In the second seminar, we’ll focus on mobility and diversity. Guest speaker Adrian Favell (Chair in Sociology and Social Theory at the University of Leeds) will give a talk

“Diversity and Mobilities in Eurocities: The Case of London and Brexit”.

London in the 2000s was the Eurocity par excellence. It was the destination of choice for a generation or two of Eurostars (Favell 2008): young, professionally mobile, post-national populations from Europe, West and East, who thrived in the cosmopolitan, non-discriminatory atmosphere of the largest and most dynamic global city, in a Europe of open borders.  Will Brexit change all that?

For sure, there will be a new natural experiment as regards the regional economic and cultural fortunes of London’s binary twin, Paris, which declined markedly in the shadow of London from 1997-2010. Other competing cities, such as Amsterdam and Berlin are also clearly benefitting. The presentation will also focus on theoretical issues about the limits of mobilities in a still nationalised and colonially ordered world. One of the great attractions of London was its “superdiversity”, a legacy of ethnic and racial diversity with deep roots in British colonial domination. Free moving Europeans and Black and Asian Minority (BAME) British, were widely thought be in tension. Yet Brexit has revealed the underlying racialised and colonial logic of British (English) island nationalism, which has re-cast all of these mobile, transnational and diasporic populations as subordinate “immigrant” foreigners to be nationally “integrated”—or else. The limits of cosmopolitanism have also been revealed by the sharp intercession of national sovereignty in the shape of a referendum, which ostensibly restored to “the people” the power to politically reject the legitimacy of economic and cultural mobilities that were thought to be constitutive of a global society; literally to reduce “demography” to “democracy”.

Adrian Favell

Prof. Adrian Favell is Chair in Sociology and Social Theory at the University of Leeds. He is the author of various works on multiculturalism, migration, cosmopolitanism and cities, including Philosophies of Integration: Immigration and the Idea of Citizenship in France and Britain (1998), The Human Face of Global Mobility: International Highly Skilled Migration in EuropeNorth America and the Asia-Pacific (with Michael Peter Smith, 2006), and Eurostars and Eurocities: Free Movement and Mobility in an Integrating Europe (2008). A collection of his essays, Immigration, Integration and Mobility: New Agendas in Migration Studies, including more recent work on East-West migration and anti-EU politics in Britain, was published by ECPR Press (Jan 2015). He also writes about urban development and politics in Turkey, and Japan as a model of the “post-growth” society, particular in terms of its contemporary art and architecture.


Opening by Anna Nikolaeva (CUS, organizer of the seminar series)

14.10 – 15.10
Presentations (see abstract below)

  • Cosmopolitan capital, flexible ethos and social skills: the making of the cool creative migrant in the new urban cultural economy, by Vanessa Cantinho de Jesus, AISSR/UvA.
  • Afrostars and Eurospaces: West African movers Re-viewing ‘Destination Europe’ from the Inside, by Joris Schapendonk, Radboud University, Nijmegen.

Coffee break

Guest Lecture:

  • Diversity and Mobilities in Eurocities: The Case of London and Brexit, by Adrian  Favell.

Comments and discussion with Virginie Mamadouh, CUS/UvA



Seminar is free and open to anyone. Please let us know if you are coming by sending an e-mail to Iris van der Doelen:

Location: REC J/K B.25

Roeterseilandcampus – building J/K

Valckenierstraat 65-67 | 1018 XE Amsterdam



Vanessa Cantinho de Jesus, AISSR, UvA

Cosmopolitan capital, flexible ethos and social skills: the making of the cool creative migrant in the new urban cultural economy.

In this paper I will draw on ethnographic examples taken from my research on young Portuguese adults living in Amsterdam who are, in diverse ways, pursuing professional and/or artistic aspirations in the creative and cultural industries. Through the analysis of some of their discourses and practices I intend to discuss the particular conditions and strategies that are at play in the pursuit of such aspirations. Namely, the importance of social networking, the adoption of a flexible lifestyle (not only regarding work, but also one’s values and plans for the future), and the signalling of transnational aesthetic orientations, expressed in a kind of cosmopolitan capital (Kuipers, 2012) appear as features for success.

To develop my argument I will not simply acknowledge such circumstances, but also reflect on their conditions of production and on the meanings of the relatively differentiated access to, and display by different informants.

I equally intend to access how diversity, more than a discursive trope crucial to this new urban cultural economy, can be a useful concept when approached both critically – that is on the limits of such trope – and as a signifier of the multi-dimensionality behind the emplacement dynamics in this particular city and for these particular migrants.

While political discourse and urban policy celebrate and promote the attraction of international talent to the celebrated creative city, creating appealing imaginaries to migrants to be, a more attentive eye into the realities of those who move in search of such images is needed, to build a critical stance capable of both highlighting the possibilities of emplacement in such urban cultural economies but also pointing to the underlying contradictions and possible exclusions. My aim is that this paper can make a contribution in that direction.


Joris Schapendonk, Radboud University

Afrostars and Eurospaces: West African movers Re-viewing ‘Destination Europe’ from the Inside

In order to destabilise the persistent normalisation of specific labelling that affects migration studies and migration policy so profoundly, this paper looks for similarities across presumably different categories of travellers. In so doing, I start from the im/mobility experiences of the Eurostars, being portrayed by Favell (2008) as the mobile EU citizens that were the pioneers in the creation of an integrated EU. I mirror these im/mobility experiences with that of the Afrostars, i.e. the West African un/documented migrants whose intra-EU im/mobility trajectories I am following through time and space. To analyse the parallels between the Euro- and the Afrostars, I construct a comparative lens along three analytical lines: the changing of aspiration and destinations, the confrontation with migration-related bureaucracies and the relationality between mobility and place attachments. The insights leads to two concluding observations that help us to re-view mobility/migration in Europe. First, there is a misleading separation of the academic debates on Euro-mobility, on the one hand, and the secondary movements or onward migration of non-EU citizens on the other. This distinction in migration studies reinforces categorical lines that are mostly induced by migration apparatuses. Secondly, and in relation to the former, there is a remarkable difference in terms of the position of mobility vis-à-vis the nation-state. As Favell so strongly shows, the Eurostars are praised for their construction of a post-national, and integrated Europe. While the treatment of the Afrostars rely so much on a discourse of re-nationalisation, i.e. national integration or assimilation. Thus, integrating Europe and integrating migrants are two worlds apart.



Cities and Mobilities Seminar Series. Seminar #1 Mobility and Place with Tim Cresswell

Please be invited to the opening seminar of the interdisciplinary Cities and Mobilities Seminar Series. It’s going to be an exciting afternoon of discussions about mobility and place. Our presenters and the guest speaker will analyse mobilities as they have shaped  urban life in Chicago, Jerusalem and Almere.

When: 13.45 – 17.00, 27 October, 2017

Where: Roeterseiland Campus, Building M (Amsterdam Business School), room 1.03


13.45                   Opening of the seminar series by Anna Nikolaeva

14.00 – 15.10     Presentations.

Lior Volinz, University of Amsterdam: Checkpoints: Outsourced Security and the Politics of (Un)certainty

Yannis Tzaninis, University of Amsterdam: Beyond the urban/suburban dichotomy

15.10-15.30         Coffee break

15.30-17.00         Lecture and discussion

Tim Cresswell  ‘Maxwell Street: Writing and Thinking Mobility  and Place in a Chicago Market’ and closing

Commentary by Luca Bertolini, the director of the Centre for Urban Studies


after 17.00  Reception

The seminar is free and open to anyone. Please kindly let us know if you are coming by sending an e-mail to Iris van der Doelen:


Tim Cresswell

Maxwell Street: Writing and Thinking Mobility and Place in a Chicago Market

This presentation consists of sections of a book length attempt at writing place. The place is the Maxwell Street area of Chicago, the site of North America’s largest open-air market though most of the 20th century. The book consists of three essays of fragments drawing on the writing techniques of Walter Benjamin in his Arcades Project as well as experiments in hybrid form in contemporary poetry (Maggie Nelson, Claudia Rankine, Susan Howe etc.). The essays are written in fragments – paragraphs that introduce and then return to recurring themes including waste, lists, materiality, the senses, and memory. The presentation will be a reading of a selection of these fragments that feature the theme of interacting mobilities (of people, things, ideas) within the place that is and was Maxwell Street.

About Tim Cresswell:

Tim Cresswell is Professor of American Studies, Dean of Faculty and Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Trained as a cultural geographer, Cresswell’s research focusses on the role of mobility, place, and space in the constitution of social and cultural worlds. Recent work has centered on the relations between forms of mobility and power in modern life. He is currently completing a book on the 100-year history of the Maxwell Street market in Chicago framed as an account of interactions between place and mobility. Cresswell is the author, co-author or co-editor of a dozen books including On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World (2006) and Geographies of Mobilities: Practices, Spaces, Subjects (2011). As a poet he is the author of two collections: Soil (2103) and Fence (2015) which continue his explorations of place and mobility. He is co-editor of the AAG journal GeoHumanities: Space, Place, and the Humanities.


Lior Volinz, University of Amsterdam

Checkpoints: Outsourced Security and the Politics of (Un)certainty

In this presentation I explore how uncertainty can be employed as a mode of governance. In exploring the administration, interfaces and security practices of Israeli checkpoints in Jerusalem’s environs, I propose that uncertainty can be strategically employed and adjusted by means of irregular operation, managerial obfuscation, lack of accountability and contradictory or oft-altered directives and regulatory framework by public and private security actors. In examining the role of (un)certainty governance in facilitating the mobility of some residents, while severely limiting the movement of others, I analyse the different facets of (un)certainty within a deliberate unequal  (re)distribution of substantive citizenship. I follow this argument through an exploration of four different dimensions of mobility (un)certainty at the checkpoints around Jerusalem. The first dimension is that of the obscure and interchangeable roles of public and private security actors at the checkpoints, which contribute to the obfuscation of authority and the unaccountability of the checkpoints operators. The second is the uncertainty and unreliability of military permits, based on legally indeterminate and illegible criteria, subjected to unforeseen rejection or revocation. I continue to analyse the spatial-temporal dimensions, in which the physical movement of the border leads to further uncertainty and danger while pre-emptively discouraging the movement of Palestinian civilians. Lastly, I explore the different Palestinian responses to the Israeli authorities’ employment of uncertainty as a mode of governance – how do Palestinians cope, negotiate with or avert altogether the Israeli authorities sustained uncertainty at the checkpoints.

Yannis Tzaninis, University of Amsterdam

Beyond the urban/suburban dichotomy

Suburbanisation has been a prevalent process of post-WWII urban growth, currently leading to the majority of citizens in many advanced capitalist economies living in the suburbs. In recent years however we are also witnessing an increasing urban ‘return’, or at least an increase in the popularity of inner cities for living and financial investment. In this presentation I explore these contrasting processes relationally, by focusing on the mobilities between Amsterdam and the suburban New Town Almere.

The aim is to cast light upon the changing urban-suburban relationship, by investigating the mobility to and from Almere longitudinally, through socio-economic, demographic data between 1990 and 2013. I demonstrate that Almere has developed from a typically white suburban, family community to a receiver of both international unmarried newcomers and native families; its population has also become relatively poorer, yet the levels of upwards income mobility have remained stable. These trends emphasize alternative types of mobilities emerging in concert to the more typical suburban migration, while challenging the urban-suburban dichotomy, pointing to alternative explanations of contemporary urban growth and metropolitan integration. In conclusion I propose that we should reevaluate processes of (sub)urbanization by focusing on contemporary diversifying global mobilities that are increasingly producing hybridizing places.


Save the Date: Cities & Mobilities Seminar Series


In 2017-2018 the Centre for Urban Studies, University of Amsterdam, will host a seminar series “Cities and Mobilities”, organised by Anna Nikolaeva.  The goal is to have series of conversations on how mobilities shape cities – from migration and tourism to daily commutes, historically and nowadays, in Amsterdam and elsewhere in the world.

Also, the series aims to foster exchange and collaboration between scholars at the University of Amsterdam and beyond, working on different dimensions of urban mobilities and in different disciplines. We will look at cities and mobilities through the eyes of geographers, historians, anthropologists, sociologists and urban planners. We will also hear commentaries from policy-makers, activists and other non-academics.

At each seminar a leading scholar will give a lecture and provide feedback to 2-3 presentations by selected junior scholars. There will be room for discussion and networking for the audience as well. The series of seminars will close by two events in May 2018 – a roundtable with the city of Amsterdam and an academic afternoon where interested participants of the series (audience and presenters) will gather once again to brainstorm a research agenda on cities and mobilities.

All seminars are free to attend and open to anyone, but please register by sending an e-mail to Iris van der Doelen (, preferably two weeks before a seminar. It’s nice to know who is coming and to make sure there’s enough coffee and drinks.


27 October 2017 Tim Cresswell, Trinity College, Hartford: “Maxwell Street: Writing and Thinking Mobility and Place in a Chicago Market”
17 November 2017 Adrian Favell, University of Leeds: “Diversity and Mobility in Eurocities”
15 December 2017 Jennie Germann Molz, College of the Holy Cross: “Sharing the City: Tourism Mobilities, Network Hospitality, and the Politics of Scale”
2 February 2017 Tim Schwanen, University of Oxford: “Transitions in Urban Mobility Beyond State and Market: Insights from London and São Paulo”
23 February 2018 Rachel Aldred, University of Westminster: “Mobility and social movements”
16 March 2018 Ole B. Jensen, Aalborg University: “Staging and designing mobilities”
20 April 2018 Mimi Sheller, Drexel University: “Mobility Justice”

Time and Location

The seminars will take place on Roeterseiland campus between 13.30 and 17.00 with drinks afterwards. Each seminar will consist of two parts:  presentations from approximately 13.30 to 15.15 and the guest lecture and debate from 15.30 to 17.00.

If you sign up, you will receive details on location and the schedule.

A detailed programme of each seminar will be announced separately by the Centre for Urban Studies and will published on this website.