Meet the Book Author: Law, Migration and Human Mobility: Mobile Law 

Magdalena Kmak, Åbo Akademi University

In our Meet the Book Author Series, the Journal of Law and Society and the Centre of Law and Society provide first-hand accounts from authors who have recently contributed notable socio-legal books to their respective fields. In this post, we hear from Magdalena Kmak, whose new book Meet the Book Author: Law, Migration and Human Mobility: Mobile Law was published in September 2023 with Routledge.

What is the book about?

This book looks at how law and human mobility interact, going beyond the conventional understanding of migration law as as a tool to regulate human movement across borders, and to define the rights and limits related to this movement. It explores a broader idea of mobility, showing how movement shapes global, legal dynamics. Using concepts like ‘kinology‘ and ‘mobility justice,’ the book examines how movement plays a role in political and social systems, challenging fixed ideas like the state and border and emphasizing how human mobility itself helps shape the law. 

Why did I write it?

This project on law and mobility is a result of my long-standing and deep frustration towards the gap between law and practice within the field of migration law, that results in unequal capacity for movement of differentially positioned people. The frustration has been also triggered by my own inability – first as a migration lawyer and then as a legal expert and researcher – to effectively put legal safeguards, in particular human rights, at work. While the existence of the gap between the theory and practice of law is part of the reality of modern law, one needs, I believe, to find one’s ways to make peace with the gap as an inherent feature of law. The concept of mobile law is therefore a copying mechanism, through which I have put flux, movement, and mobility at the centre of my research in law.

How did I go about doing this research?

My own approach to make peace with the gap between universal law and its unequal application was to to find ways of understanding the gap as a space of resistance and emancipatory change. Such approach has oriented this research and led me towards putting flux, movement, and mobility justice at the centre of analysis. Instead of focusing on the definitions of concepts such as citizenship or border I asked what they can do and how do they move. In other words, I used mobility as a lens to understand how movement of people is differentially regulated in law. I believe that mobility understood not as a freedom of some but as justice, that puts attention on the unequal capability for movement, helps to understand law’s role in not only regulating but also producing unequal mobilities. 

In result, the shift from stability to mobility and from normative rights- based approach to mobility justice perspective revealed ways in which power relations play out in the movement of people and how such institutions as borders and citizenship in combination with social constructs such as race, gender, or class result in unequal mobility. I believe that such a perspective of mobility opens up a space of contestation. It destabilizes the main grounds of contemporary migration law, rooted in state­ nation-community dynamics. Destabilising legal concepts such as nation-state, citizenship, refugeeness and migration, allows an abandoning of the static per­spective of law as a tool of the state, and highlights the gap between law and practice as a space of movement. Through such a perspective, law can be seen as inherently unstable; therefore, susceptible to changes.