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Title: Rootedness in mobility : space and spatial practice in the nineteenth-century American West
Author: Vollenbroker, N.
Awarding Body: University College London (University of London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2013
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Human beings have a dialectical relationship with their environment. On one hand, we create it daily with our actions; scholars now agree that the way we inhabit our cities and dwell in our homes shapes these sites as much as their physical forms do. On the other hand, our environment mediates our practice, amongst other things by stipulating what is or isn’t deemed appropriate behaviour in a particular location. Space is a powerful tool and we are easily kept “in our place” by social and cultural conventions: being a woman, being a citizen, being at home etc. all carry expectations of compliant spatial conduct. Where spatial practice is ideally dynamic and liberating, its constructive potential is thus frequently suppressed and regimented to support a larger, usually politically motivated narrative – a narrative which then strongly influences a predominant telling of history. This thesis closely considers one such historical “remote-controlled” spatial concept: that of rootedness in the nineteenth-century Unites States. In these 100 years, America spatialised itself, developing from a collection of former colonies into a powerful nation state defined through its territorial expanse and cohesion. Crucial in securing this unifying space were the numerous migrants encouraged to move West by a government portraying the land as the single and unifying root bed for the (still diverse) American nation. Mobility was a part of the imperial project of expansion and popular US opinion still perceives the pioneers as having grounded the republic in the nourishing Western soil on which a civilised, progressive and distinctly American culture consequently flourished. As a spatial scholar, however, I see mobility as a form of practice which does not lend itself to streamlined rhetorics as much as many others. Movement necessarily implies trespass - a traveller must cross thresholds and boundaries, spatial transgressions which encourage social and cultural contestation. This Ph.D. project makes use of the challenging nature of mobility, of its ability to review accepted norms through spatial practice. It looks at the nineteenth-century Western migrants’ daily spatial practice to consider how mobility carried an authorised narrative, but also how the men and women wrote a parallel history of American identity and belonging. The value of the research is twofold. In the first instance, using a spatial lens allows me to offer an alternative reading of how the mobile inhabitants of the trans- Mississippi West influenced the cultural and social constructs in which the United States of America has long perceived itself to be rooted. My focus in this parallel or other history will be on heterogeneity, on the (fluid) roles of individuals in society, on the reciprocity between sedentarist and mobile culture. Secondly, I aim to bring the insights gained from the analysis of a particular mobile community and their practice back to academic spatial discourses. My focus here will be on place-making and home-making as acts of mobility.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available