Moving home: conceptual and policy implications of the housing-mobility nexus

1 Jul 2012

The Australian population is one of the most mobile in the world—with over 50 per cent of Australians changing their place of usual residence in the five-year period between 2001 and 2006 (ABS 2006). This essay teases out the links between housing and mobility and suggests there is potential to explore the new ‘mobility turn’ approach to better understand this relationship.

Social science research has explained the causes and consequences of mobility using various approaches.  These have ranged from the environmental determinism of Simmel and Wirth from the Chicago school of the 1930s (whereby mobility was linked with various pathologies e.g. loneliness or juvenile delinquency), through to behavioural and economic understandings (whereby mobility is understood to be a result of choice, compulsion or economic incentives).  A recent approach is described as the ‘mobility turn’.  In this approach, mobility is seen as a response to a social world which, through rapid technological advances, seems to be increasingly globalised, interconnected and mobile.  Each of these approaches have been used to consider the role of various aspects of housing (tenure, dwelling, neighbourhood etc.) in influencing mobility, though the advent of the ‘mobility turn’ creates a new opportunity to apply this new approach.

In Australia, mobility is found to be linked to a range of factors, including demographic change and housing careers, taxation and housing assistance.  Mobility is also found to have significant consequences on concentrations of disadvantage.  Temporary mobility (e.g. that taken in mobile homes) is also raised as an emerging area of interest to policy-makers.

The author concludes by advocating for two conceptual shifts in how housing researchers and policy-makers approach the housing-mobility nexus.  The first is the need to adopt broader understandings of mobility that go beyond movements of persons to consider the emerging role of technology in facilitating ‘virtual’ movement. The second is that there is also the need to account for a politics of mobility (that goes beyond the politics around the right to move and also goes beyond simplistic ideological approaches that laud stasis or mobility), as this may be important in determining good policy outcomes. 

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