John Urry Lecture 2020: Covid-19, Mobilities and Futures

Thursday 29 October 2020, 5:00pm to 6:30pm

Pinboard map of Europe with connecting strings


Online (Microsoft Teams), Lancaster, United Kingdom

Open to

All Lancaster University (non-partner) students, Alumni, Applicants, External Organisations, Postgraduates, Prospective International Students, Prospective Postgraduate Students, Prospective Undergraduate Students, Public, Staff, Undergraduates


Free to attend - registration required

Registration Info

Head to our Eventbrite Page to Register and receive the link for the event.

Event Details

A Panel Discussion with: Professor Tim Cresswell (Edinburgh), Professor Mimi Sheller (Drexel) & Professor Noel Salazar (KU Leuven)

2020 will be long remembered as the year the world stopped moving, trying to contain the movement of coronavirus Covid-19 as it spread across world. As we enter the autumn, the challenges of governing societies that have become increasingly dependent on free and accelerating circulation, movement and mobility while containing the disease have returned with a vengeance. Headlines and newsfeeds are utterly dominated by the challenges and paradoxes of ongoing attempts to square mobilities and immobilities. In short, the global pandemic has thrust im/mobilities into the epicentre of contemporary politics and society

John Urry (1946-2016), world-leading sociologist and social thinker, co-founded the Mobilities paradigm at the turn of the century, noting that social phenomena in a world on the move could no longer be adequately and faithfully analysed on the basis of static ‘container states’ and ‘social structures’. Since then, Mobilities studies has flourished into a hugely diverse and dynamic worldwide research community. This series of annual lectures is held in his memory.

In this year’s event, we pick up the key issue of the moment – for the world and Mobilities studies alike. What does a Mobilities lens have to offer to illuminate our current Covid-19 predicament? What issues, usually overlooked or neglected, does it bring to the fore, whether explanatory or normative? And what futures does it enable us to see or envision, for better or worse?

Stranded into social distancing, the event this year also takes an unusual format, as an online panel amongst three of the most significant Mobilities thinkers. Hosted by Lancaster University’s Institute for Social Futures, Centre for Mobilities Research and Sociology Department (in all three of which John was instrumental), we invite you to join us for a look beyond and below the headlines to a new perspective on the issue of the moment.


Tim Cresswell: How do we, might we, value mobility post COVID-19?

This is the central question I want to address. The mobilities turn, or "new mobilities paradigm" had many starting points, but one of them was a general revaluing of mobility. Examples ranged from the opening up of the supposed "dead time" of the journey to work to the general critique of a sedentarist metaphysics across social, cultural and political thought. With this in mind, the onset of COVID-19 along with the closing down of national borders, virtual elimination of air passenger travel, and variety of lockdowns and quarantine policies at more local scales, raises several questions about the valuing of mobility in the 21st Century. While conservative and nationalist commentators seek to hunker down in various forms of national localism more critical commentators are identifying the landscape of connected capitalism as a root cause of the current crisis. With this in mind I ask how we might continue to value mobilities into the future.

Mimi Sheller: Contested visions of im/mobilities

As SARS-CoV-2 swept around the world outpacing public health efforts to contain it, many human mobilities were brought to an abrupt halt, while others were drastically reorganized. Viral mobilities unleashed not just a disruption of human mobilities, but also a vast intensification of existing uneven relations of (im)mobilities. Under these exigencies to de-mobilize and re-organize our lives, we were forced to adopt new routines, new habits, and new ways of stilling ourselves, our economies, and our social interactions. For some, the dramatic emptying of city streets prefigures a world in which we have reduced the dominant system of automobility and fossil-fuel dependence, opening up space for walking, biking, and more rapid transit, and a turn to more local economies. For others it is an economic catastrophe, demanding remobilization. Will the Covid-19 crisis accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels? Or will we return to the high-mobility, high-energy, high-carbon economy of the past? How can we begin the urgently needed shift to a low-carbon economy premised on more resilient, regenerative, and circular forms of local exchange? Could this be the push we need to stop the global climate emergency?

Noel Salazar: Disruption and Imagined Transformation: Essential and Existential Mobilities in Times of Crisis

Situations labelled as ‘crisis’ offer social scientists unique research opportunities because they intensify existing processes, revealing what works well in society and where there are structural problems. The 2020 coronavirus crisis is not any different. From a mobility studies perspective, one of the most striking things occurring during the global pandemic are the changed patterns of who and what moves when and where. Authorities across the planet (re)classified the most common mobilities along ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ axes, the latter category temporarily being restricted or even forbidden. In addition to seriously disrupting existing mobility patterns, the coronavirus crisis is also an open invitation to re-imagine future mobilities. For one, the whole situation has revealed more sharply which types of (im)mobility are valued by various stakeholders in society, which ones are discursively framed as essential (mainly from a socio-economic perspective) and which ones are experienced as existential (contributing to people’s general well-being).


Contact Details

Name Louise Bush

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