Moving target, moving parts: the multiple mobilities of the COVID-19 pandemic

By Nicola Burns, Luca Follis, Karolina Follis and Janine Morley

In Lupton, D. and Willis, K. eds., 2021. The COVID-19 Crisis: Social Perspectives. Routledge.

After the initial few months of the pandemic, after this project was put on hold, we used the unexpected hiatus between workshops to put pen to paper. We drew on the mobilities paradigm, discussed in our first workshop, to analyse some of the many, multi-scalar forms of mobilities that were so essential to characterising and understanding the initial months of the Covid-19 public health crisis, and the (widely acknowledged) failures of the UK government in responding. It highlights the challenges faced by nationally bounded and static health systems in a world where everything else is on the move. And lays some ground, we hope, for extending the field of ‘health mobilities’ at the intersection of health and mobilities research.

The abstract is below. You can check out the rest of the collection here.


This chapter considers the contributions of the mobilities paradigm to the sociological understanding the COVID-19 pandemic. Mobilities scholarship offers a multi-scalar framework that spans from movement at the molecular level to the movement of bodies and the local, national and supranational travel of humans and non-humans. Its core insight has been the recognition that mobilities are socially patterned, hierarchical and co-exist with immobilities, thereby generating and reproducing inequalities. The chapter focuses on the United Kingdom government response to the coronavirus pandemic, emphasising the multi-scalar effects of state intervention and the implications for different groups in society, which remain largely unaccounted for. We ask: who (and what) moves and does not move in this crisis? We work through the local, meso and macro level to show how the public health imperative to immobilise the disease vector (the body) disrupts ordinary patterns of mobility that have become central to globalised economies. The chapter argues that viewing the COVID-19 pandemic through the prism of mobilities illuminates not just the long-term effects of this crisis on national health systems but also highlights the vulnerability of static and bounded health systems in a world where everything else is in movement.

Out now: Book chapter on health mobilities in the Covid-19 pandemic