Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 3.0 France

Les Regards croisés du Forum Vies Mobiles sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Partage dans les Mêmes Conditions 3.0 France.

Les autorisations au-delà du champ de cette licence peuvent être obtenues en nous contactant via ce formulaire de contact.

Mobile methods

Mobile methods produce insight by moving physically, virtually, or analytically with research subjects. They involve qualitative, quantitative, visual and experimental forms of inquiry, and follow material and social phenomena.


Detailed definition

How people, capital, objects, images and information move, are blocked from movement or become immobile is highly consequential. Multi-modal and intersecting (im)mobilities configure social and material realities. It is critical for societies to understand the everyday practices involved as well as their cumulative systemic  effects. To this end, a core commitment of mobile methods is to move with subjects of inquiry, often as participant observers. Thus, mobile methods allow researchers to establish ‘some form of literal, physical presence with an explicit logic of association or connection’ (Marcus, 1998).

Different qualitative, quantitative, visual and experimental techniques are used to study mobilities  (Büscher, Urry & Witchger, 2011; Fincham, McGuinness, & Murray, 2009), including arrested, blocked, or disrupted movements (Adey & Anderson, 2011; Sheller, 2012), and stillness (Bissell, 2007, Lan et al 2013). Examples of mobile methods include:

  • walk alongs (Kusenbach, 2003; Pink, 2007; Ingold & Vergunst, 2008),
  • ride alongs (Laurier, 2004, Ferguson 2011, Aldred & Jungnickel 2012),
  • shadowing (Czarniawska, 2007; Jiron, 2011),
  • tours (Kusenbach, 2012),
  • travel, transport or technology diaries (Palen & Salzman, 2002; Axhausen, Zimmermann, Schönfelder, Rindsfüser, & Haupt, 2002),
  • longitudinal studies with migrants (Kalir, 2012),
  • home and away studies with tourists (Larsen, 2008),
  • virtual ethnography (Molz, 2006),
  • multi-sited and global ethnography (Marcus, 1995; Burawoy, 2000; Tsing, 2005, Kien 2009),
  • Geographical Positioning Systems (GPS) or mobile positioning studies (Hein, Evans, & Jones, 2008; Ahas, 2011),
  • biomapping, comobility, audiowalks (Nold, 2009, Southern, 2012; Chapman 2012)
  • interventions, collaborative design, collaborative creation (Watts & Lyons 2011, Büscher 2006, Southern 2012)

Researchers may follow people, but also objects, images, ideas, information, connections. Through fostering engagement with multiple perspectives, practices and experiences, mobile methods provide novel analytical purchase on distributed, connected, fleeting phenomena; complex lived practices of mobility and (im)mobilisation at different scales and their sensory or affective dimensions.

Specific points

Mobile methods are not new – insistence on studying social and material orders through movement has been part of scholarly enquiry in different disciplines, ranging from Georg Simmel’s and Walter Benjamin’s cultural phenomenology, through the dérive in art (Debord, 1959), mobile video in anthropology (Mead & Bateson, 1977), the discovery of social order from within in ethnomethodology (Macbeth 1999), to time-geography (Hägerstrand, 1985). The mobilities turn  has promoted mobile analytical sensitivities and methodologies in sociology (Urry 2000, Sheller & Urry 2006), geography (Thrift 2004, Cresswell 2006, Adey 2009), transport studies (Axhausen, Zimmermann, Schönfelder, Rindsfüser, & Haupt, 2002) and other engineering disciplines, such as mobile computing (Weilenmann 2001), as well as commercial marketing research (Robbins 2011).

Mobile methods and Method Assemblage

The focus of innovation in mobile methods is often on generating qualitative insight into the fleeting, distributed, multiple, embodied and affective practices of mobile living as well as processes of immobilization and exclusion. However, mixed mobile methods that integrate quantitative and visual/experimental methods are emerging, especially around the use of databases, open data, big data, life history and longitudinal data, Geographical Information Systems, GPS, sensors, and mobile personal technologies. Actuarial datamining and ‘qualculation’ of transport, financial, marketing and security data (Thrift 2004) enable unprecedented dynamic qualitative judgments about futures. Pervasive calculation of consumer choices based on loyalty card use, for example, enables producers, logistics companies, warehouse operators and supermarkets to become ‘dynamic to sale’ (Harvey et al. 2002), that is, able to watch demand, predict trends and gear responses swiftly to change. Mixed mobile methods are needed to enable more critical understanding of the hypermobile, connected, micro-coordinated ‘just-in-time living’ that such qualculation enables. Mixing may integrate qualitative and quantitative methods, for example, in mobile positioning studies (Ahas 2011) or it may come together as method assemblage (Law 2004).

Politics of method: Ethics and Inventiveness

Finally, mobile methods reflect an ontological and epistemological, but also ethical and practical shift in research methodology. They raise new ethical challenges for researchers, research participants and research users, particularly around informed consent, privacy and personal data security, and researcher-researchee-user relationships. But at the same time, recognition of the constitutive nature of (im)mobilities for material and social realities fosters integration between mobilities research, social innovation, design, management and policy and can enable ‘carefully radical’ and ‘radically careful’ innovation (Latour 2008); a new politics of method. This centres on mobile methodologies’ tendency to foster nuanced understanding of complex socially organised phenomena and the rise of ‘mode2’, participatory forms of knowledge production and utilization, such as living laboratories and collective experimentation (Wynne and Felt 2007, Nowotny et al 2001, Bærenholdt et al 2010). Mobile methods often move research teams to act on new understanding, and in that sense they are inventive methods (Lury & Wakeford 2012) that can play an important part in the configuration of futures.


Mobilities research is a fast growing field. A brief review of a selection of examples can provide a glimpse into the diversity of insights and inventive momentum produced. From a physical ride along with a sales representative on the motorway, Eric Laurier (2004) shows how mobile office work is part of emergent social and moral orders that produce careers in slow and fast lanes.  As he observes ‘Ally’ respond to emails (sometime literally reading them on the steering wheel while moving at speed), the artfulness of fitting into the embodied, augmented sociality of motorway traffic becomes available for analysis. Building on this work, Harry Ferguson (2011) follows social work as it is done in the office, on the move, in parked cars as well as inside the homes of service users. Ferguson is able to illuminate the affective dimension of social work, as he enters with his research subjects into diverse, sometimes fearful atmospheres of service-users’ homes, documenting power struggles over how much access is demanded, granted, and resisted. Following other, more multiple, distributed and fleeting phenomena requires more vicarious methods. By equipping research subjects with diaries, sensors, or GPS trackers, researchers are able to reveal situated experience and negotiation of intersecting mobilities. Artist Christian Nold, for example, asks people to carry galvanic skin sensors as they move through their cities. Experiences of low and high arousal are monitored, mapped, annotated and visualized as a form of ‘emotional cartography’ (Nold, 2009). In a more experimental approach, artist-sociologist Jen Southern picks up on emergent new practices of ‘comobility’ – a form of connection with distant others experienced in motion through locative media. By building speculative ‘apps’ that visualize networks of people (and animals) on the move simultaneously, downloaded onto personal iphones, she and her colleagues allow people to experiment with surveillance as well as connected sociality (Southern, 2012). Such engagement with research subjects reflects how an analytical orientation towards (im)mobilities shifts research from being focused ‘merely’ on investigation towards engaging with, and accompanying socio-technical change with research.  Mobile methods as ‘inventive methods’ seek to grapple with, shape and inform socio-technical change concretely. Examples include the ‘travel remedy kit’ devised by Watts and Lyons to create railway journeys that are more beneficial to passengers (Watts and Lyons, 2011) and method assemblages designed to ‘follow the information’ across interoperable databases in disaster response (Büscher et al. 2013).


Adey, P. (2009) Mobility. Routledge.

Adey, P., & Anderson, B. (2011). Anticipation, materiality, event : the Icelandic ash cloud disruption and the security of mobility. Mobilities , 6(1), 11-20.

Ahas, R. (2011). Mobile positioning. In M. Büscher, J. Urry, & K. Witchger (Eds.), Mobile Methods . London: Routledge.

Aldred, R. & Jungnickel, K. (2012). Negotiating mobile spaces between ‘leisure’ and ‘transport’: A case study of two group cycle rides. Sociology , 46(3), 523-539.

Axhausen, K. W., Zimmermann, A., Schönfelder, S., Rindsfüser, G., & Haupt, T. (2002). Observing the rhythms of daily life: A six-week travel diary. Transportation , 29(2), 95–124.

Bærenholdt, J.O., Büscher, M., Damm Scheuer, J., Simonsen, J. (Eds.) (2010) Design research. Synergies from interdisciplinary perspectives. London: Routledge.

Bissell, D. (2007). Animating Suspension: Waiting for Mobilities. Mobilities , 2(2), 277–298.

Burawoy, M. (2000). Global Ethnography: Forces, Connections, and Imaginations in a Postmodern World . Berkeley: University of California Press.

Büscher, M., Urry, J., Witchger, K. (2011). Mobile Methods . London: Routledge.

Büscher, M. (2006). Vision in Motion. Environment and Planning - Part A, 38(2), 281–299.

Büscher, M., Bylund, M., Sanches, P. Ramirez, L. and Wood, L. (2013) A New Manhattan Project? Interoperability and Ethics in Emergency Response Systems of Systems. In T. Comes, F. Fiedrich, S. Fortier, J. Geldermann and L. Yang, (eds.) Proceedings of the 10th International ISCRAM Conference – Baden-Baden, Germany, May 2013.

Chapman, O. (2012). I Am Walking in a Room: Audio Art and Revealing. Esse (74 – Reskilling) (January): 62–67.

Cresswell, T. (2006) On the Move . Routledge.

Czarniawska, B. (2007). Shadowing. And Other Techniques for Doing Fieldwork In Modern Societies. Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press.

Debord, G. ([1959] 2007). Theory of the Dérive. In K. Knabb (Ed.), Situationist International Anthology . Berkeley: Bureau of Public Secrets, U.S.

Fincham, D. Ben, McGuinness, M., & Murray, L. (2009). Mobile Methodologies . Palgrave Macmillan.

Ferguson, H. (2011) Mobilities of welfare: The case of social work. In Büscher, Urry, & Witchger (Eds.), Mobile Methods . London: Routledge.

Hägerstrand, T. (1985). Time-Geography: Focus on the Corporeality of Man, Society and Individuals. In S. Aida (Ed.) The Science and Praxis of Complexity . New York: United Nations University Press.

Harvey, M.; Quilley, S. and Beynon, H. (2002) Exploring the tomato. Transformations of nature, society and economy. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.

Hein, J., Evans, J., & Jones, P. (2008). Mobile methodologies: Theory, technology and practice. Geography Compass Vol. 2(5), pp. 1266–1285.

Ingold, T., & Vergunst, J. (2008). Ways of Walking. Ashgate Publishing.

Jiron, P. (2011). On becoming “la sombre/the shadow”. In Büscher, Urry, & Witchger (Eds.), Mobile Methods . London: Routledge.

Kalir, B. (2012). Moving Subjects, Stagnant Paradigms: Can the “Mobilities Paradigm” Transcend Methodological Nationalism? Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies , 1–17.

Kien, G. (2009). Global Technography: Ethnography in the Age of Mobility. Peter Lang Publishing.

Kusenbach, M. (2003). Street Phenomenology: The Go-Along as Ethnographic Research Tool. Ethnography , 4(3), 455–485.

Kusenbach, M. (2012). Mobile Methods. In S. Delamont (Ed.) Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education . Edward Elgar Publishing.

Lan, K. H. T., Voilmy, D. , Buscher, M. & Hemment, D. (2013) The sociality of stillness. In: Interaction and Mobility: Language and the Body in Motion. Haddington, P., Mondada, L. & Nevile, M. (eds.). Berlin: De Gruyter, p. 373-407.

Larsen, J. (2008). Practices and flows of digital photography: An ethnographic Framework. Mobilities , 3: 140-60.

Laurier, E. (2004). Doing Office Work on the Motorway. Theory, Culture & Society , 21(4-5), 261–277.

Law, J. (2004). After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. Routledge.

Lury, C., & Wakeford, N. (2012). Inventive Methods: The Happening of the Social. Routledge.

Macbeth, D. (1999). Glances, Trances, and their Relevance for a Visual Sociology. In P. L. Jalbert (Ed.), Media Studies: Ethnomethodological Approaches . Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Marcus, G. (1998). Ethnography through Thick and Thin . Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Marcus, G. E. (1995). Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography. Annual Review of Anthropology , 24(1), 95–117.

Mead, M., & Bateson, G. (1977). On the use of the camera in anthropology. Studies in the Anthropology of Visual Communication , 4(2), 78–80.

Molz, J. (2006). ‘Watch us wander’: mobile surveillance and the surveillance of mobility. Environment and Planning A 38(2), 377 – 393.

Nold, C. (2009) (Ed.) Emotional Cartographies: Technologies of the Self . Creative Commons. [accessed 8 January 2013)

Nowotny, H., Scott, P., and Gibbons, M. (2001) Re-Thinking Science , Cambridge: Polity.

Palen, L., & Salzman, M. (2002). Voice-mail diary studies for naturalistic data capture under mobile conditions. Proceedings of the 2002 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work - CSCW  ’02 . New York, New York, USA: ACM Press.

Pink, S. (2007). Walking with video. Visual Studies , 22(3), 240–252.

Robbins, C. (2011).  Mobilizing Market Research. Greenbook.

Sheller, M. (2012). The islanding effect: post-disaster mobility systems and humanitarian logistics in Haiti. Cultural Geographies , online.

Sheller, M., & Urry, J. (2006). The new mobilities paradigm. Environment and Planning - Part A , 38(2), 207–226.

Southern, J. (2012). Comobility: How Proximity and Distance Travel Together in Locative Media. Canadian Journal of Communication , 37(1).

Thrift, N. (2004). Movement-space: The changing domain of thinking resulting from the development of new kinds of spatial awareness. Economy and Society , 33(4), 582–604.

Tsing, A. L. (2005). Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection . Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Urry, J. (2000). Sociology Beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twenty-First Century. London: Routledge

Watts, L & Lyons, G. (2011). Travel Remedy Kit. In Büscher, Urry, & Witchger (Eds.), Mobile Methods . London: Routledge.

Weilenmann, A. (2001). Mobile methodologies: experiences from studies of mobile technologies-in-use. In Bjørnestad & Solveig (Eds.), Proceedings of the 24th Information Systems Research Seminar in Scandinavia (IRIS 24) (Vol. 3, pp. 243–257).

Wynne, B. and Felt, U. (eds) (2007) Taking European Knowledge Society seriously. European Commission .  [accessed 8 January 2013].



Movement is the crossing of space by people, objects, capital, ideas and other information. It is either oriented, and therefore occurs between a place of origin and one or more destinations, or it is closer to the idea of simply wandering, where there is no real origin or destination.


John Urry is Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Director of the Centre for Mobilities Research at Lancaster University. Since the mid 1990s he has advocated a shift in the focus of sociology from the study of a-spatial social structures to the study of mobilities.


Broadly, the word mobility can be defined as the intention, then the realization, of moving through a geographical space, implying a social change.


Page top