Agentive Motility Meets Structural Viscosity: Australian Families Relocating in Educational Markets
Agentive motility meets structural viscosity: Australian families relocating in educational markets. Abstract: This paper will develop and illustrate a concept of institutional viscosity to balance the more agentive concept of motility with a theoretical account of structural conditions. The argument articulates with two bodies of work: Archer's (2007 Archer's ( , 2012 broad social theory of reflexivity as negotiating agency and social structures; and Urry's (2007) sociology of mobility and
... of mobility and mobility systems. It then illustrates the concept of viscosity as a variable (low to high viscosity) through two empirical studies conducted in the sociology of education that help demonstrate how degrees of viscosity interact with degrees of motility, and how this interaction can impact on motility over time. The first study explored how Australian Defence Force families cope with their children's disrupted education given frequent forced relocations. The other study explored how middle class professionals relate to career and educational opportunities in rural and remote Queensland. These two life conditions have produced very different institutional practices to make relocations thinkable and doable, by variously constraining or enabling mobility. In turn, the degrees of viscosity mobile individuals meet with over time can erode or elevate their motility. Urry's (2000) manifesto for a new sociological method that could account for the social in movement across time and space sought to move beyond the agency/structure binary underpinning sociology's default assumption of fixity. Much subsequent mobilities research has attended to what is new and changing, highlighting 'mobile culture', the sociality of transportation, and overtly mobile populations (Vannini, 2010). However, Urry (2000) was equally intent on explaining the 'uneven reach' (p.18) of networks and flows, and efforts to 'regulate' mobilities (p.19). This indicates the ongoing relevance of structural efforts or effects that mitigate mobility. The concept of viscosity contributes in this regard. Page | 4 The paper draws on parallel studies of differently mobile families from the sociology of education. The first study interviewed parents in families with an Australian Defence Force (ADF) member, about their history, concerns and strategies around household relocations. These hyper-mobile military families pursued ordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances, posted frequently and at short notice to locations not necessarily of their choosing. The second study conducted similar interviews with professional parents (teachers, doctors, nurses and police officers) in six rural and remote communities in Queensland, Australia. These professionals had ample choice about where to live given the widespread demand for their skills. They thus have the capacity to optimize where they live (Weiss, 2005) for the sake of both career purposes and children's education. Rural and remote localities are often reduced to 'gamekeeping' strategies (Urry, 2000) in order to attract and retain such professionals to staff vital services. The differently textured mobilities of these two groups are produced under institutional conditions that make relocations more or less thinkable and doable, and institutional strategies that seek to variously constrain or enable that mobility.