Initial background to Crosslocations

Abstract description of Crosslocations

The Mediterranean, a key socio-cultural, economic and political crossroads, has shifted its relative position recently, with profound effects for relations between the peoples associated with its diverse parts. Crosslocations is a fresh theoretical approach that goes beyond current borders research to analyse the significance of the changes in relations between places and peoples that this involves.

It does this through explaining shifts in the relative positioning of the Mediterranean’s many locations – i.e. the changing values of where people are rather than who they are. Approaches focusing on people’s identities, statecraft or networks, while highly useful, have not provided a way to research how the relative value of ‘being somewhere in particular’ is changing and diversifying.

The Crosslocations approach builds on the idea that in socio-cultural terms, location is a form of political, social, economic, and technical relative positioning, involving diverse scales that calibrate relative values (here called ‘locating regimes’). This means locations are both multiple and historically variable, so different types of location may overlap in the same geographical space, particularly in crossroads regions such as the Mediterranean. The dynamics between them alter relations between places, significantly affecting people’s daily lives, including their life chances, wellbeing, environmental, social and political conditions and status.

The project will first research the locating regimes crossing the Mediterranean region (border regimes, infrastructures; digital technologies; fiscal, financial and trading systems; environmental policies and conditions; linguistic regimes; and social and religious structures); then intensively ethnographically study the socio-cultural dynamics of relative positioning that these regimes generate in selected parts of the Mediterranean region. Through explaining the dynamics of relative location, Crosslocations will transform our understanding of trans-local, socio-cultural relations and separations.

A bit more about the idea

The Mediterranean region is a crossroads between highly diverse places and peoples in political, social, economic, environmental, spiritual and structural ways. It both brings together and marks divisions between southern Europe, north Africa and the eastern Mediterranean. In recent years, the news about the region has particularly concerned conflict and financial crises, followed by the high numbers of refugees that have resulted. Those are amongst the most notable recent dynamics, but for centuries, it has involved both the positive and negative elements of the relatively close proximity of a range of highly different places, peoples and conditions.

Of course, life in the Mediterranean region also has many of the same characteristics as anywhere else: living there is marked by people’s daily negotiation of rules and bureaucracy; of the infrastructures that work or fail to work; of encounters with local markets, taxes, and debts, and the cost of daily life in general; of engagement with various technologies, especially mobile phones and computers; of relations with friends, kin, colleagues, perhaps strangers too, and the conventions which guide such relations; of the sights, sounds and smells of local environments, which may include the sounds and effects of conflict.

More widely, people both experience and have a sense of how places compare with others across many different scales of evaluation, and how their relations with, and separations from, those other places affects their relative position. In short, daily life involves a density of multiple conditions, structures, regulations, environments, relations and separations that generate many versions of what it means to be somewhere in particular.

These conditions change all the time. For the Mediterranean, there have been the newsworthy events, particularly the financial crisis since 2008 that has especially affected southern Europe; and the political turbulence since the Arab Spring of 2011, which has particularly affected north Africa. Of course the eastern Mediterranean, particularly involving Israel and its neighbours, has been attracting news for far longer.

The less newsworthy or visible elements are equally significant. An example is the network of telecommunications cables running along the seabed that provides access to the internet across the Mediterranean and the rest of the world. The Mediterranean has some of the most densely packed submarine cable systems, involving both local and long distance cables that practically cover the whole globe. The cables are owned by dozens of companies, many of them multi-national, but some based quite regionally. The details provide traces of past and present relations between diverse parts of the Mediterranean. For example, there is a cable that directly links Libya and Italy, and another that goes from the UK to India via the Mediterranean. The companies that own these cables decide who to connect and who to disconnect; what costs are involved, and how fast or slow the connections will be. These decisions vitally affect people's lives.

These kinds of infrastructures co-exist with a number of other regimes and structures Crosslocations will study how the co-existence of these different structures are affecting the way places are socio-culturally located and given a value with respect to other places.

Crosslocations is researching the effects of the engagement between these diverse systems that overlap in any given geographical space. We aim to develop a new conceptual framework and an innovative research methodology to tackle this question for the Mediterranean region.

It will do this through researching changes in the relative values of the multiple locations associated with the region and its many parts generated by these diverse regimes; and then explore the dynamics of the relations between these locating regimes, with the ultimate aim of explaining how all of this is affecting socio-cultural relations and separations between people and places. To do this requires being able to skip between the global scale of submarine cable networks, the supra-state scale of EU protocols and other regional arrangements and structures, and the everyday lives of people, who are always somewhere in particular, but where that somewhere in particular is being established in multiply different ways these days.

To use an example from above, this would require investigating where state border regimes, maritime law, trading regulations and EU agreements and protocols encounter submarine telecommunications networks; how that in turn affects the relative value and meaning, as well as the connections and separations, between a given part of the Mediterranean region in terms of its relative location; and how that in turn affects people’s everyday lives.