Capturing Meanings of Place, Time and Social Interaction when Analyzing Human (Im)mobilities: Strengths and Challenges of the Application of (Im)mobility Biography

  • Julia Kieslinger Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg
  • Stefan Kordel Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg
  • Tobias Weidinger Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg
Keywords: new mobilities paradigm, migration studies, participatory research, qualitative research, biographical research, life history interview, timeline tool, life-worlds


In this article, we suggest (im)mobility biography as a method for reconstructing human (im)mobilities and related negotiations of meanings of place, time and social interaction. Based on biographical-narrative approaches and participatory ideals the combination of life history interviewing with a participatory timeline tool is the best fit for capturing individuals' life-worlds over time. After presenting theoretical presuppositions on relational meanings of place, time and social interaction, we provide an overview of biographical and participatory research in the context of human (im)mobilities and sketch methodological origins of the life history interview and the timeline tool. Furthermore, we address issues essential for planning and preparing (im)mobility biography, and demonstrate two different applications of the method in migration contexts in Germany and Ecuador. Subsequently, we present options for analysis and interpretation of textual and graphical data outputs. Keeping in mind strengths and challenges, we consider (im)mobility biography a valuable method for capturing (im)mobile life-worlds as well as contextual embeddedness of individual decision-making on moving or staying. Especially in terms of its participatory orientation, the visualization of migration trajectories facilitates structuration and memorization of life histories, allows for shared analysis even at the interview stage, and encourages participants to reflect on their biographies.


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Author Biographies

Julia Kieslinger, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg

Julia KIESLINGER is a research associate at the Institute of Geography at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg. Her research interests include interrelations between human (im)mobilities, socio-ecological transformations and rural development as well as development of methods for actors' participation and knowledge co-production. She is currently conducting empirical research in Latin America and Germany.

Stefan Kordel, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg

Stefan KORDEL is a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute of Geography at Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg. At the core of his research are social geographical questions in the field of migration studies. Empirically, he is dealing with qualitative approaches in various rural areas, e.g., Bavaria, the Spanish Mediterranean coast, and Latin America.

Tobias Weidinger, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg

Tobias WEIDINGER is a research associate at the Institute of Geography at the University Erlangen-Nuremberg. His research focuses on diverse forms of rural immigration. Currently he is working on the settlement and integration of asylum seekers and refugees in rural Germany and on the aspects of housing and mobility.