Reassembling fragmented geographies LORENzA MONDADA
DOI link for Reassembling fragmented geographies LORENzA MONDADA
Reassembling fragmented geographies LORENzA MONDADA book
The ‘mobility turn’ within social science (Cresswell 2006; Laurier 2003; Urry 2007) has acknowledged the centrality of mobility in the contemporary world; it has also emphasized the theoretical importance of mobility for questioning assumptions about place, foundations and stability. Despite this booming interest, little is known about the detailed practices through which mobility as a social action is achieved, and through which temporal and spatial coordination within mobile, dispersed, fragmented networks is accomplished. Taking an ethnomethodological and conversation-analytic perspective, this chapter focuses on the practices by which participants coordinate movement and action at a distance. The analysis is based on video data recorded in a call centre providing motorists with breakdown assistance, a perspicuous setting for the study of temporal and spatial coordination. Coordination is central to the organization of persons moving in different places. It is generally recognized as a pervasive need of contemporary mobile life – as shown by the use of mobile phones to ‘micro-coordinate’ imminent meetings (Katz and Aakhus 2002; Ling 2004: ch. 4). Ethnomethodological and conversation-analytical studies examine practices of coordination, including how people announce where they are in the openings of mobile phone calls (Arminen and Leinonen 2006; Laurier 2001; Relieu 2002) and how friends or acquaintances coordinate their movements in familiar places, sometimes discovering accidental co-proximity and negotiating the opportunity for meetings on such occasions of discovery (Licoppe 2008). By contrast, in this chapter I focus on a professional setting and on the diverse skilled practices through which unacquainted participants negotiate their respective locations in unfamiliar places, discovering and then resolving multiple contradictions arising from discrepant place formulations. Coordination can be supported by mobile and stationary phones but also through various other communication technologies. Their use in professional and institutional settings to support mobile collaborative work and services has been described within workplace studies (Luff et al. 2000) identifying complex ‘centres of coordination’ (Suchman 1996) where professionals are distributed across different locations, working across multiple and fragmented spaces (Luff and Heath 1998). This chapter focuses on the use of phone and Internet technol-
ogies in call centres providing breakdown assistance to travellers. In these activities, the detailed, embodied practices participants use to produce relevant place formulation (Psathas 1986; Schegloff 1972a) rely not only on talk but also on the use of computers, documents and maps in order to provide for the urgent dispatch of help to the right place (Fele 2007). Call centres are a perspicuous setting (Garfinkel and Wieder 1992) for the study of coordinating practices at a distance. They have been studied as typical examples of delocalization, of de-and restructuration of work at various spatial scales, and of ‘glocalized’ organizations (Breathnach 2000; Bristow et al. 2000). From a micro-analytic perspective, the vital role of call centres and emergency call services for communication in emergency situations has been studied (Baker et al. 2005; Whalen 1995; Zimmerman 1992). Such studies have found that successful help dispatch relies on the production of place formulations carefully made relevant to the problem and to the intervention that is called for: as Meehan (1989) puts it, callers have to produce a ‘policelocatable location’. This location can be relatively straightforward to produce – for example, when people are asking for help from home and give their address (although even in this case problems can emerge, as shown by Whalen et al. 1988). However, it can also be very difficult to establish – for example, when the call is issued from unknown places, from places that do not have a standard address or from mobile phones (Bergmann 1993). This chapter focuses on practices and resources mobilized by callers and call-takers to coordinate mobile motorist help-seekers, stuck in and calling from often remote places that may be unfamiliar to them, and the breakdown assistance personnel sent to their location. The study of these lay and professional practices of bringing together immobilized persons and mobilized assistance personnel shows that geographies are mobile, mutable and multi-layered. Partial, occasioned geographies are locally achieved for the practical purposes at hand. The study reveals how general assumptions of place as a stable, uniquely describable location can become problematic. Despite – or indeed, as we shall see, because of – their assumption of a common, objective, pre-existing world, participants can create multiple fragmented, contradictory geographies through talk and action. Geography is here considered in a praxeological perspective (cf. Laurier in press), as a matter of ‘writing’ places or ‘geo-graphy’. Geographies are assembled through participants’ practices of formulating, describing and naming places, offering possibly relevant landmarks and distance calculations, mentioning place names, postal codes and highway exit numbers, reconstructing itineraries and checking locations on the Internet, etc. Whereas often common formulation of spaces and places is unproblematic, practices of space-making can also produce multiple incompatible geographies, which change in the course of the ongoing negotiation. This chapter focuses on such ‘reality disjunctures’ (Pollner 1987), detailing the practices and resources mobilized by different participants to discover and resolve critical disjunctures, actively assembling a shared geography, a world seen in common.