Mobilities: landscapes as assemblages


Mobilities Flow, freedom and movement of human and nonhuman beings acting in the world are constituted as inter-subjective mobilities. Understanding the materiality of mobilities, how bodies flow through places and spaces with and through materials are as Aldred (2014) notes central and important to research on bodies in the landscape:

 How one moves during fieldwork has important consequences for the interpretative process, and presented movement as a conjunction between body and landscape … in order to study movement there is a need to understand it not dialectically, in-between static materials and moving bodies, but rather through the flows in which these two become co-constituent in movement. (Aldred 2014, p. 40)

The landscape is an assemblage with flows of materials running through it, rivers, rocks, earth, sunlight, wind; it is a moving omnipresent not a static backdrop to human or animal activities (Edgeworth, 2014). The high slopes are the most unstable with lake sediment deposits. The higher, steeper slopes are also the wettest; they are by far the most landslide-prone slopes within the city. The houses are swept away, buckled and broken slowly with the earth slumping, the movement edges its way down the valley slope.  Houses containing children slip down the valley. Phenomenon could be described as the intra-action between an object and its surroundings. This intra-action leaves discernible marks on those surrounds so as to constitute them as a measuring apparatus of the intra-action. Barad (2007, p.335) argues:

… apparatuses are not merely human-constructed laboratory instruments that tell us how the world is in accordance with our human-based conceptions. Rather, apparatuses are specific material configurations (dynamic reconfigurings) of the world that play a role in phenomena.

Barad (2007) uses the term ‘intra-action’ to describe how two poles of a phenomenon, the object and the apparatus, do not exist as such apart from their intra-action. What is measured by those marks of intra-action, however, is not a property of the object in isolation, but of the phenomenon as a whole.  In chapter five of the book Children in the Anthropocene I explore the concept of mobilities. I consider how we can think of freedom and movement differently if its ontological roots aren’t located in a pure determinist, phenomenological humanistic paradigm. That is, ‘(f)reedom is not a quality or property of the human subject … but can only characterize a process, an action, a movement that has no particular qualities’ (Grosz 2010, p.147).  Freedom is not then about choice or options, the acquisition of objects – I am free to make choice while others aren’t (Grosz 2010). To be ‘free’ in this sense is a freedom of action, it is connected to ‘embodied being, a being who acts in a world of other beings and objects’ (2010, p.147). Freedom is closely connected then to concepts around movement, the materiality of movement, to the reconfiguring of what comes to be viewed as autonomous acts of freedom.   The children in the three neighbourhoods of La Paz were asked to draw on a map of their movements through the landscape. These marks on the map are as Barad alludes to a ‘measurement of intra-action’ – they record the ongoing dynamics of boundary making (marking) practices of children with the landscape. The marks provide a record of each neighbourhood and how children move differently and together through these landscapes. And as they move with and through and intra-act with objects, they leave traces of their past and present.



Map 1: Mobilities of children becoming with landscapes at Cotahuma

This first map shows the children becoming with landscapes in Cotahuma. The maps provide children’s movement not as autonomous individuals but rather as a collective phenomena of child-city-movements as material dynamic entangled objects becoming through the landscape.  They provide entry points when observing the entangled nature of practice as it unfolds:

[P]athways or trajectories along which improvisatory practice unfolds are not connections, nor do they describe relations between one thing and another. They are rather lines along which things continually come into being. Thus when I speak of the entanglement of things I mean this literally and precisely: not a network of connections but a meshwork of interwoven lines of growth and movement (Ingold 2010, p. 3). 

Elena’s reflects on childhood play in La Paz, she states:

In our free time we played just on the earth, we didn’t have a  play ground we just played with the air, go to the garbage play on the garbage. In my neighbourhood before was so dirty, the river was open and you can smell the water was dirty.  And people other communities use to come to there to throw all the garbage near the river and some factories carry some magazines books to throw out near the river and we as a child use to run to see what they had thrown. Maybe we can get some magazines things like that. That happened when I was 10 years old. I remember always I use to have dirty clothes (Recorded interview 2014).

The spider weaves their threads starting from the centre, building layers by knotting carefully each thread. The boundaries are created by supporting the trailing of loose ends that fall away. The network of lines, the flow of materiality of child-city-movement provides the possibilities for real and imagined journeys where the human and non-human are connected. The defining attribute of a network of flow lines is their potential for connectivity. Ingold (2010) states:

The lines of the spider’s web, for example, unlike those of the communications network, do not connect points or join things up. They are rather spun from materials exuded from the spider’s body and are laid down as it moves about. In that sense they are extensions of the spider’s very being as it trails into the environment. They are the lines along which it lives, and conduct its perception and action in the world ( p. 12). 



Map 2: Mobilities of children becoming with landscapes at TacGua

Life, according to Deleuze and Guattari (2004), is developed along thread-lines (Ingold 2010). These thread-lines of life are referred to by them as ‘lines of flight’, or ‘lines of becoming’. Like the markings of the children through the landscapes of La Paz these are not lines that connect; they are the unfolding of possibilities for how materiality is flowing through the spaces between the earth and the walking. A freedom of flow is taking up agency through child-earth becoming. The ‘thing’ the gathering together of lines of flight is according to Ingold (2010) is how Deleuze and Guattari explain the concept of a  “haecceity” (2004, p. 290).  The haecceity or thisness of things is represented through this mapping of collective lines of flight. At the centre of the Tac Gua map we can see a number of swirling lines centred around a particular object. The object is the play and sports space – it is also the centre where we held our workshops. Running vertical to these the crooked lines illustrate the staircases where children can exit to the top of the valley and ravine into the El Alto or horizontally outwards into the forested disused vacant blocks where the valley is so steep constructing houses or stairs is impossible or what was there has now been lost; washed away by a landslide. Walking, walking, carrying, carrying, puffing, puffing – up the steep staircases. The pathways are empty. Bare dirt fills the spaces in between. Hidden from view, the narrow walkways look our across the valley.


Stairs as lines of flight 

A line of becoming’, Deleuze and Guattari (20write:

… is not defined by the points it connects, or by the points that compose it; on the contrary, it passes between points, it comes up through the middle … A becoming is neither one nor two, nor the relation of the two; it is the in-between, the … line of flight …  

Children’s movement and freedom as represented through their intra-acting with and through the dirt, dust and water of the ravines provides insights into the materiality of being with the earth through an embodied reality of moving through place. It is not the place or destination that is central to these child-city-movements but a mobile materiality that allows the child’s entangled world to be revealed Or as Ingold (2010, p. 3) entices us to consider, ‘a focus on life-processes requires us to attend not to materiality as such but to the fluxes and flows of materials’.



Map 3: Mobilities of children becoming with landscapes at Munaypata

The marks on the landscape portray the messy flowing streets of Munaypata following the valley terrain and the means through which children have individually and collectively devised complex pathways through the congested urban landscape. The steep crammed valley; with houses built on top of each, providing no space or paths or roads creates. The heavy flows of movement are connected to activities within streets, open areas, parks, playgrounds, and sporting fields.

Elena’s reflections on a childhood with dirt and landslides:

I walked. I always walked I never took the car or bus.  Because the road I use to go was hilly and when it was the season of raining – the road was earth, the road was slippery and I use to fall down and I remember my shoes were always were dirty with all the earth. With the earth that’s what it was like. We get access to the football field, was field near the river too and we use to go and play and run or play football. We didn’t get access to a good real playground it was too far away

When I was a child there was a landslide. My house was on the edge where all the other houses near me all fall down. Ours was the only one left. We stayed in that house on the edge of cliff for five years after that. When my house was on top of the edge my mum and me still stayed there but my bedroom did not have a door – we had a small place to walk but my porch and the other part of the house fall down. We just put some wood and have to use a ladder up the cliff to get to the house. We had to carry the water it was very difficult. In that house I was very sacred. When it starts raining I am afraid scare maybe the house will landslide again. I had my packed ready to go some I have to take it with me. (Recorded interview 2014).

The flowing in and out of the central area that is the neighbourhood of Munaypata tracks the means through which children enter in and out of the space along the ravine edges to move downtown to where the schools are and where their parents are working. They return back up the ravines to the neighbourhood where they find small areas of open space, some earth to play out of eyeshot of adults who may have presented risks. Sheller and Urry (2006, p. 217) argue while much of the research on movement is conducted at a distance it should also be equally concerned with ‘the patterning, timing and causation of face-to-face copresence’.

The texture of the ground, steep slopes, loose earth; the weather wind, rain, darkness; vegetation forests, woodlands; and the others that we share the ground with all influence and force certain types of movements, freedoms, constraints and mobilities (Leary 2015). And as Ingold and Vergunst (2008) remind us we are in relation with a world teeming with a vast array of non-human animal life, all of which influence how we move, with whom we move through the landscape and the trails we leave behind (Leary 2015). Gibson argued many years ago through his affordance theory that animals and humans stood in  ‘systems’ or ‘ecological’ relation to the environment, such that to adequately explain some behaviour it was necessary to study the environment or niche in which these entangled relations took place.  Humans like other animals know the world through moving and acting in it. Therefore they exist in a dynamic relational system with their surroundings –  humanity has relied on this system of human-non-human place relation longer then this short epoch of the anthropocene where we have sought to reconstitute human as separate/outside of nature… unpacking the diversity of children’s mobilities and how these are embedded and embodied in the everyday-ness of being in relation to the materiality and aliveness of ‘things’ in the city seems timely as an essential ingredient for the story of growing up in the Anthropocene.



Aldred, J 2014, ‘Past movements, tomorrow’s anchors. On the relational entanglements between archaeological mobilities’ in Past mobilities: archaeological approaches to movement and mobility, J Leary (ed.), Ashgate Publishing, Farnham, pp. 21-48.

Barad, K 2007, Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning, Duke University Press, Durham & London.

Deleuze, G & Guattari, F 2004, A Thousand plateaus, trans. B Massumi, Continuum, London.

Edgeworth, M 2014, Enmeshments of shifting landscapes and embodied movements of people and animals, in Past mobilities: archaeological approaches to movement and mobility, J Leary (ed.), Ashgate Publishing Limited, Farnham, pp. 49-62.

Grosz, E 2010, ‘Feminism, materialism, and freedom’ in New materialisms: ontology, agency and politics, D Coole & S Frost, S (eds), Duke University Press, Durham & London, pp. 139-157.

Ingold, T 2010, Bringing things to life: creative entanglements in a world of materials. National Centre for Research Methods, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.

Ingold, T & Vergunst, J 2008, Ways of walking: ethnography and practice on foot, Ashgate Publishing, Farnham.

Leary, J. (ed) 2015, Past mobilities: archaeological approaches to movement and mobility, Ashgate Publishing, Farnham.

Sheller, M & Urry, J 2006, ‘The new mobilities paradigm’, Environment and Planning A, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 207-226, doi: 10.1068/a37268.

This blog post is a modified extract of chapter 5 in the recently published book by the author Children in the Anthropocene. This is a Palgrave book published in the book series Childhood and Development. To find out more details or to purchase a copy of this chapter in full or the whole book you can find the information at the following Palgrave website:

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