This research project proposes a human-centred approach to understand the formation and management of a multi-mobile millennial nomad’s identity and spatial practices in the private domain, urban environment and the digital realm. It foregrounds a spatiality paradigm and applies an affective lens to distil qualitative insights into how this globally dispersed group of highly mobile and peripatetic individuals between their twenties and mid-thirties maintain a multi-dimensional and deeply interconnected existence. This dynamic age in which we live is truly a fluid one: Following technological and digital advancements, the merging of technologies in the current Fourth Industrial Revolution have consecutively altered lifestyles and work cultures; influenced consumption and behaviour patterns; the ways in which privacy lines are drawn; demarcation of ownership of territories and possessions; and how relationships are nurtured. Global mobility and connectivity along with the convergence of people and data in virtual space vitally support nomadic lifestyle requirements and the lateral agility necessary for the millennial generation to remain competitive in a rapidly evolving labour landscape.
Despite the topicality of this phenomenon, the spatial demands and contextual experience of the millennial nomad remain under-researched. Departing from the themes of movement and transience that dominate discourse on global nomads in sociology and geography, we confront this paucity by focusing on the performative nature of short-term placemaking and homemaking that is part and parcel of the millennial nomad’s cyclical ritual of relocation, reorganization and reassembling; and what it means to have a local address, albeit for a limited time. Unlike itinerant and leisure travellers, global nomads tend to immerse themselves in the culture of their host environment and form bonds with the community for the duration of their stay. This heuristic process of crafting one’s lived environment and local networks is regarded as a creative practice; more than that, it illustrates the agency individuals possess and actively exercise on the micro-spatial level.
Adopting a research-led framework, architectural criticism, spatial mapping, virtual ethnography and other instruments for eliciting qualitative descriptions are employed to systematically:
- Discuss how traditional notions of “home”, “work”, “territory” and “identity” are being redefined;
- Study the formation of one’s habitus via an architectural approach to materiality;
- Chart how nomads navigate their host cities, the resources and networks they rely on; and
- Identify new normative societal features that have emerged as a result of the penetration of social media and mobile devices into our everyday life.
The incorporation of diverse research tools and interpretive media to capture and communicate the results of our investigations—film, VR and AR apps to support immersive experience—is vital. This is essential in order to supply a multi-faceted reading of the research findings. An added complexity is attributed to the simultaneous corporeal and digital presences that we now seamlessly maintain in real life. Therefore, innovative methods appropriate to mapping the respective physical, mental and virtual realms of inhabitation and their overlaps will be necessary.
By identifying certain values commonly shared by the growing number of millennial nomads worldwide, we aim to formulate a rubric that explains the spatial rhetoric of this demographic. Ultimately, we will be able to articulate the role of digital and technological affordances in relation to human agency, by how these are deftly applied for scripting the spatial narrative of a millennial nomad in the contemporary milieu. On a conceptual level, the research highlights the seamless connection between the online and offline territories we now naturally maintain as evidence of the increasing dilution between perceptual spatial divides. The significant contribution of this project to academia will be to reflect on the millennial nomad’s global transversality from a spatial-experiential standpoint to offer a bottom-up articulation of the world.
The research project is funded by the Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund (AcRF) Tier 1 Grant and will span 18 months until June 2020.