Connecting the spots

Notes on migration and environment from a geographical perspective

Simon Alexander Peth

Simon Alexander Peth

Simon Peth is a research associate and PhD candidate at the University of Bonn. He studied Human Geography, Agricultural and Development Economics, and Anthropology. Simon has more than five years of research experience focusing on climate change adaptation, human mobility and migration theories. He has conducted empirical research in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and recently focuses on Thailand, Singapore and Germany CONTACT speth@uni-bonn.de

Nov 9th 2014 by Simon Alexander Peth

What is translocality? A refined understanding of place and space in a globalized world

In the face of globalization, it is inevitable to rethink the notion of locality. In its simplest form, locality is defined by physical or geographical borders. A village is an example of locality, which is usually defined by its settlement area. Today such a definition of locality is not useful because it curtails the realities of a globalized world such as, diversifying migration flows or global economic interdependencies etc..

A location such as a village – to stick to the example above – is more than its settlement area, its streets, buildings, and inhabitants. Nowadays even very remote places are increasingly affected by global dynamics. Roads, mobile communications, goods, and people moving from one place to another create numerous interrelations, connections, and flows that expand a place beyond its mere locality. In this light, we cannot understand places solely as a territory. In the last decade, scholars have put forward a new research perspective that overcomes this isolated and disconnected view on places and localities: "translocality." This concept tries to capture the interconnectedness and processes that happen in and between different localities.

A definition of translocality is hard to find

The concept of translocality has recently gained interest within science, such as migration studies and geography. However, the term is increasingly used as an umbrella term and therefore often lacks clarity. In this regard, it is hard to find a widely accepted textbook definition, so let me start with a more general concept:

In my understanding, translocality is a variety of enduring, open, and non-linear processes, which produce close interrelations between different places and people. These interrelations and various forms of exchange are created through migration flows and networks that are constantly questioned and reworked.

How to break it down?

Enduring, open, and non-linear processes: means, basically, that translocality isn´t a matter of course. Translocality is not volatile and not necessarily a result of specific preconditions, such as migration, flows of goods, information, and values. However, there are context-specific conditions that enable the emergence of translocality, such as: intense migration flows; high degrees of social embeddedness of migrants in both the place of origin and the place of destination; and infrastructural settings that connect people to each other, allowing for the exchange of goods and resources as well as information.

Close interrelations: through the enduring, open, and non-linear process, close translocal ties emerge. These close interrelations can develop on different scales, ranging from the world economy to societal relations within communities, and even from person to person.

Why call these close interrelations 'translocal´? "Translocal interrelations" is not only a new buzzword replacing other terms, such as global interconnections or international relations. The term also illustrates a new character of relations. Translocal relations connect and influence different localities and people at the same time. That means conditions or events at one place have an immediate impact on other connected places.

Various forms of exchange: translocal relations are mainly shaped through various forms of exchange between migrants and non-migrants. It can be an exchange of goods, commodities, and money (including trade or remittances) or an exchange of information, ideas, and identities (e.g. through visits, phone calls, letters, emails, social media, etc.), and even an exchange of services and labor.

Networks: over time, close networks of different people emerge that enable and foster translocality. A network here refers to a group of actors (including migrants and non-migrants) who stay in contact with each other and share a common interest, identity or function (e.g. migration network, business network, political networks, diaspora networks, ethnic networks).

In a globalized world where mobile phones, the internet, and no-frills airlines are part of our daily lives we cannot neglect the connecting nature of migration anymore”

Translocality and migration

It´s time to think about migration differently. Since the emergence of migration studies, there has been either an isolated focus on the places of origin or the places of destination. Migration is often seen as an event of rupture, up-rootedness, and shift of social space. In a globalized world where mobiles, Skype, and no-frills airlines are part of our daily lives, we cannot neglect the connecting nature of migration anymore.
Migration cannot be seen as a single event, but as a process that connects places and people at different localities beyond geographical distances and political borders. There are many processes and flows in and between the places of origin and the localities where migrants go in order to live, work, escape, love, help, care, study, visit, search, and much more. It's the connections that shape translocality.
Finally, translocality is not simply a scientific concept of framing a new understanding of place, space, and locality. Translocality is created, lived, and experienced by millions of people in everyday life. One example gives writer Pamela Weintraub in her Blog reflecting on life in a globalized world: Living in transition, between cultures, we are discovering who we are, she argues. "Home may not be within a family or even a single culture, but between cultures and communities and constantly on the move."

(Photos:E. Fischer, under CC BY 2.0; TransRe/S. A. Peth)