Published in

Taylor & Francis (Routledge), Mobilities, p. 1-15, 2021

DOI: 10.1080/17450101.2020.1866320



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Existential vs. essential mobilities: insights from before, during and after a crisis

Journal article published in 2021 by Noel B. Salazar ORCID
This paper is available in a repository.
This paper is available in a repository.

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While situations of crisis are a cause of great distress for those affected, particularly the most vulnerable ones, they offer scholars unique opportunities to study people and society because such circumstances intensify existing processes, revealing what works well and where there are problems. The 2020 coronavirus outbreak was not any different. From a mobility studies perspective, one of the most striking things that occurred during the global pandemic were the changed patterns of who and what moved when, where, and how. 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. This article offers a critical assessment of such crisis regimes of (im)mobility, taking Belgium and its capital city Brussels as an illustrative case study. I reflect on the mobility implications of COVID-19 mitigation measures for citizens and others, highlighting how the condition of lockdown led to (sometimes unexpected) alterations in people’s daily mobilities. The anthropological analysis shows that an exceptional situation, such as the one witnessed in 2020, clearly brings to the fore 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).