People in in-between space: how forced immobility is dealt with in Kabul

Katja Mielke

During the first phase of Crossroads Asia, the working package "Sub-Urban Movements: Social Inequality and Dynamics of Micro-Mobilization" found that, due to the interdependence of social inequality and the dynamics of social mobilization in urban settings, the “urban poor” are denied regular access to crucial resources. This explains the existing, structurally induced social immobility of large population groups. During the period of investigation between 2015 and 2016, two traditionally highly spatially mobile groups will be examined (Jogi and Kuchi), which make up a significant share of the inhabitants of illegal, temporary camps in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul. The aim of the research is not to describe or define a set of essential group characteristics from an external perspective, but to gain a deeper understanding of dimensions and dynamics of the Jogi and Kuchi’s imagined and practiced self-positioning, both in the sense of situatedness (as a result of spatial location) and in the sense of situating (as a process). The question is raised as to the role played by the (non-)realization of mobile practices (nomadism, peripatetic migration), as well as the availability of the resources these mobile practices require, for the self-positioning of the Jogi and Kuchi in the present and the future. The Jogi and Kuchi are reliant on their surroundings and social networks, as elements of diverse everyday-figurations: in the camp itself, as well as in the city, i.e., in earning a living, and in searching for protection and security, for example in order to continue living in the camp.  Finally, it is explored how the interactions of the Jogi and Kuchi with their environment - with the local population (i.e., inhabitants of the neighborhood), with far away responsible authorities and with state regulations – mutually influence those involved and their relevance structures (as mobile/immobile individuals, as public officials or institutions, the refugee regime, the city). The focus of the research will not be on the exclusion of the Jogi and Kuchi camp inhabitants (from an exclusion perspective), but instead on the practices of their inclusion into the existing frames of reference, for example as urban citizens, Kabulis, returnees or (internally) displaced individuals, and therefore also as target groups from the point of view of Afghan/governmental and non-governmental assistance programs.

The empirical research in this working package aims to contribute to three interconnected topic areas of great significance to the substantive and conceptual discussion of the research network:

  • The discussion around spatial production (key word: the figurative construction of space), with the exploration of the concept of in-between space and its spatial, social and ethical materiality, as well as its interdependence with social mobility (vertical and horizontal);
  • The discussion around dynamics of mobility and immobility, including their spatial and social interdependencies (dealing with supposed immobility and ‘poverty’);
  • The discussion around positionality.

In the course of the research, the adequacy of established categories and ascriptions (social mobility, immobility, social change, poverty, non-places, refugees, etc.) from the perspective of local sensibilities and perceptions, as well as with regard to their potentiality and connecting points, will be subjected to a critical assessment.

Relevant preliminary work:

  • Mielke, K. (forthcoming): Not in the Master plan: Dimensions of exclusion in Kabul. In: Sökefeld, Martin (ed.): Spaces of Conflict. Bielefeld: transcript.