Article Access: Genealogies of Autonomous Mobility [Routledge]

Intersections by JISJ
4 min readApr 23, 2022


By Savina Magni

Genealogies of Autonomous mobility is a chapter of the Routledge Handbook of Global Citizenship Studies. Published in 2014, this Routledge book addresses the strains and discord of the concept of citizenship as we understand it today. Each chapter explores different themes which concern several aspects of global citizenship studies.

Written by Martina Martignoni and Dimitris Papadopoulos, Chapter 1.2, focuses on autonomous mobility and citizenship. Martigoni and Papadopoulos argue that mobility should be approached from an autonomous point of view which analyses the formation of sovereignty through mobility. In particular, the authors explain that an autonomous perspective on mobility seeks to view migration as an essential aspect of social life and the state as well as a response to political and economic pressure. Migration is analyzed as having its own logic and motivations, rather than a simple response to the social malaise.

Within this context, mobility refers to an empirical condition that represents the struggles and practices of migrants who escape control. It has been seen as an answer to the heterogeneity of national regulation of mobility. The chapter analyses three aspects of autonomous mobility: the power of creating new forms of life, the capacity of redefining borders and politely and the political struggles of migrants in labor markets.

The first aspect relies on the idea that migrants manage to build alternative transnational communities of existence. Autonomous mobility sees contemporary migration as a social movement born in response to sovereignty as well as a practice to support freedom of movement. A notable example to understand such a concept is how this phenomenon creates new forms of life is the transatlantic slave trade. The ‘rebels of the Atlantic’ invented and adopted a new language for communicating which emerged in the everyday life of the ships. Slave traders used to fill their ships with captives from different areas of West Africa so that communication would be more difficult. However, enslaved people would establish new ways of communication by creating a new pidgin language. Those new languages soon became new means of communication in Europe and the New World and it was considered an instrument of communication among the oppressed. Along with languages, in this period, several other forms of discourse were created such as the Biblical jubilee religion. The formation of such systems shows how multi-ethnic organizations were able to combine differences to create new everyday realities.

The second important aspect investigated in the chapter is how migration changes the way someone’s identity beyond their citizenship. In particular, the authors explain how citizenship and borders are two interconnected concepts and tools constituting variable techniques that are often used to determine a migrant’s civic status as well as their place in the global labor market and their exploitability. As a result, the idea of borders and citizenship as fixed and stationary entities must be abandoned. Borders are instead defined as porous structures that are constantly subjected to the migrations. In this sense, borders draw lines between different grades of irregularity and citizenship which often is the main challenge faced by the autonomy of mobility.

The last aspect of the chapter explores the problems that migrant workers face in the labor market. It was only in the fourteenth century in France that vagabondage became punishable by law since because in a feudal society based on the sedentariness of its population, such an act was seen as a serious problem. As a consequence, in the late Middle Ages, several unsuccessful attempts were made to stop villagers from moving into towns. However, to slow the phenomenon, a regime that intended to capitalize on the mobility of the migrants was established to channel the energy of mobility into skills for productivity. Also known as disciplinary power, this phenomenon gradually transformed the energies of people’s autonomous mobility into a regulated system based on wage labor which is considered to be the foundation of capitalism from an autonomous perspective.

Mobility is considered a crucial element of the currency societies, therefore it needs to be institutionalized to reach a better configuration of life and labor. The relationship between the autonomy of the migration approach and the citizenship is complex: the former only exists when migrants develop their own forms of life, but it has an enormous impact on political institutions such as the state.


Martignoni, M., Papadopoulos, D. (2014). Routledge handbook of global citizenship studies. London: Routledge.


Savina Magni is a current MSc student at the London School of Economics & Political Science studying Environmental Economics & Climate Change. Savina has a particular passion in learning about and caring for the environment. She holds a first-class undergraduate degree from Goldsmiths University in Economics. Savina is a Blog Writer for the JISJ Intersections team.

Originally published at on April 23, 2022.