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Mobile Commons

Mobile commons are alternative, shared knowledge and affective relationships, various forms of support and care that facilitate self-organization for people on the move (cf. autonomy of migration) while moving, but also when finding their way in places of temporary residence (cf. game). According to the authors of the term Papadopoulos and Tsianos (2013: 191-192), they include the following: knowledge of mobility (how to travel, which route to take, with what equipment, at what time of day and year, with whom and how to communicate, who can you rely on directly or remotely while on the move, etc.), infrastructure of connectivity (social networks, smartphones, knowledge of groups, pages, online maps, etc.), informal economy (how to find a free lawyer, doctor or dentist, how to receive money from abroad, how to find transport, smugglers, etc.), communities of justice (solidarity networks, local activist groups, political organizations, etc.), and, most importantly, politics of care, i.e. friendship, trust, help, etc. Mobile commons are constantly modified, disappearing and being amended, and their list is always expanding, depending on the needs that arise in the hectic, but collaborative environment defining migration.

Cooperative action, information sharing, and mutual aid and support that form the foundations for mobile commons do not depend on the goodwill of those involved or on some sort of migrant-supposed innate solidarity, but on the characteristics of migration itself. For instance, Reece Jones (2016), in the introduction to his book Violent Borders, describes an attempt made by seven young Moroccans to cross into Spanish territory hidden in a bus, despite X-ray checks being conducted on each bus. The seven young men hid under the hood and in the undercarriage of the bus, hoping that, because there were several of them, at least one of them would remain invisible to the scanners at the border, the border police and dogs, and thus enter Spain. A similar example involves jumping the fence in Melilla en masse, at the Spanish enclave in Africa. As demonstrated in the film The Land Between (directed by David Fedele, 2014), hundreds of people self-organize and join together in a joint rush for the fence so that at least a few could manage to cross it, escape the Moroccan police and apply for asylum on the Spanish side. 

As a layered phenomenon defined by numerous factors, people, other beings and things; migration, Papadopoulos and Tsianos emphasize, can be initiated and reproduced only “through reciprocity, and reciprocity between migrants means the multiplication of access to mobility for others. Multiplying access is the gift economy of migration. This is the world of the mobile commons.” (2013: 190). It is, in short, “the organizational ontology” of people on the move (Papadopoulous and Tsianos 2013: 179) and “a common, based on customary knowledge born out of the socialities of migrants themselves and others who support them” (Trimikliniotis et al. 2015: 54). Yacou, a migrant from Mali and the protagonist of the mentioned film The Land Between, greets “all the clandestines of the world”. Mobile commons also grow out of a “we” that, Papadoupolos and Tsianos believe, is often not even recognized or called as such, but it can nevertheless recode or even interrupt the logic of border control (2013: 190).



Jones, Reece. 2016. Violent Borders. Refugees and the Right to Move. London and New York: Verso.  

Papadopoulos, Dimitris and Vassilis S. Tsianos. 2013. „After Citizenship. Autonomy of Migration, Organisational Ontology and Mobile Commons“. Citizenship Studies 17/2: 178-196.

Trimikliniotis, Nicos,  Dimitris Parsanoglou and Vassilis S. Tsianos. 2015. Mobile Commons, Migrant Digitalities and the Right to the City.  Basingstoke: Palgrave.


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