Écrit en rapport avec Mode d'emploi 2014, ARTICLE, La fin des sociétés mobiles ?

‘An infinite growth in a finite world’. This quotation from the French economist Latouche raises a controversial question: can we still talk of a mobile society in a world of scarce resources?

A world of scarce resources

The increasing mobility that the world is currently taking advantage of seems, in many respects, to be overshadowed by the burning necessity to find an alternative to the scarcity of our resources. This view on the potential end of mobile societies as we know them today notably seems to be shared by John Urry, British sociologist and professor at Lancaster University known for his work in the fields of the sociology of tourism and mobility. In a recent conference around the theme of ‘The end of mobile societies’, the latter indeed insisted on the growing necessity to find an alternative to what he calls ‘mobility machines’ (see picture above) as a way to refer to our current means of mobility, such as cars and planes, in a world where oil reserves are constantly shrinking.


Traffic jam in Shenzhen, China

A social phenomenon

Moreover, John Urry also stressed the importance of taking into account the causes and roles of this mobility. Whilst mobility is often associated with freedom, it is also constraining and, first and foremost, social. It may seem obvious that flying to New York as an accountant and visiting one’s family in the South of France have no common purpose ; yet, these two situations are highly similar in the sense that they are both motivated by social constraints. Therefore, the end of mobility would not only be damaging to the process of globalisation, and thus to the world economy, but also to each single individual and it would undoubtedly redefine social relationships.

A ‘desynchronisation’ that threatens our current pace of life

Hartmut Rosa, German sociologist and professor at Friedrich Schiller University, offered a much more optimistic view on the future of mobility. The latter indeed believes that we are ‘setting the world in motion at a faster and faster pace’ following a logic of ‘escalation’. As a response to this assumption, John Urry pointed out the ‘desynchronisation’ between our current pace of life and the pace of nature and stated that ‘not everything can be mobilised to the same level and at the same time’. This thus points out an inevitable dilemma between our current pace of life and environmental constraints. Will development bring us alternatives to the burden of resources, such as oil, or shall we change our consumerist, globalised and productivist society for a ‘slower’ one that would fully respect the environment?

Julie L., CSI

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