Skip to main content
Log in

Nomadicity and the Care of Place—on the Aesthetic and Affective Organization of Space in Freelance Creative Work

  • Published:
Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) Aims and scope Submit manuscript


While information and communication technology enables freelancers to work “anytime anywhere”, it has become apparent that not all places seem to be equally suitable for their work. Drawing from CSCW literature on the practical accomplishment of mobile work and theoretical literature on creativity, insights from ethnographic studies in New York, Berlin and Wiesbaden are discussed. The paper follows workers in their everyday attempts to seek out and enact work environments, which enable them to be creative and productive. In these processes, mobility features both as a problem and a resource. The search for the right place makes these workers restless, but sometimes restlessness and nomadicity can inspire creativity. Similarly, new mobile, social and collaborative technologies allow a new balancing of solitude and sociality. I call this emerging nexus of practices which entails aesthetic, affective, social and socio-political dimensions the care of place. A conjoint theoretical and empirical analysis aims to draw attention to everyday lived practices of nomadicity and the care of place in a wider discursive and socio-political context to inform CSCW design.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Cp. also


  3. The UK government estimates that in the UK the creative industries ‘are worth more than £36 billion a year; they generate £70,000 every minute for the UK economy; and they employ 1.5 million people in the UK.’

  4. We know of at least two iconic models of creative production: On the one hand, there is the model of working in retreat or in solitude of one’s study (Thomas Mann), bed (Proust) or the cabin (Thoreau). On the other hand, there is the model of working in public, as in the Viennese or Parisian Café (Sartre, Hemingway). In recent decades, the latter definitely seems to have prevailed.

  5. My use of the term ‘dispositif’ follows Foucault’s definition of a nexus of heterogeneous elements, discursive and non-discursive, institutions, material structures, which form a power structure and help shape the social body as well as how we think, feel and act (Foucault 1980, 194 ff.).

  6. See and Author 2010.


  8. ibid.


  10. - my translation.

  11. For an alternative typology of mobility see Kristoffersen and Ljungberg (1999) who distinguish between „travelling“, „visiting“and „wandering”.

  12. Bellotti and Bly in an early paper (1996) already pointed out the practical necessity of moving about in the office, and hence the need to develop devices which offer similar portability as paper does.



  • Allen, David (2001). Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. New York: Penguin Books

  • Anderson, Leon (2006). Analytic Autoethnography. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 373–395.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Atkinson, Paul, Amanda Coffey, and Sara Delamont. (1999). Ethnography: Post, past and present. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, vol. 28, pp. 460–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Augé, Marc (1995). Non-places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity. New York City: Verso Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bellotti, Victoria and Sara Bly (1996). Walking away from the desktop computer: distributed collaboration and mobility in a product design team. In Olson, Gary M., Olson, Judith S. and Ackerman, Mark S. (eds): CSCW’ 96. Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, Boston, United States. November 16–20, 1996. New York: ACM Press, pp. 209–218.

  • Boden, Deirdre and Harvey L. Molotch (1994). The Compulsion of Proximity. In R. Friedland and D. Boden (eds): NowHere: space, time and modernity. Berkely and Los Angeles: University of California Press, pp. 257–286.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bogdan, Cristian, Chiara Rossitto, Maria Normark, Jorge Pedro, and Kerstin Severinson Eklundh (2006). On a Mission without a Home Base: Conceptualizing Nomadicity in Student Group Work. In P. Hassanaly, T. Herrmann, G. Kunau and M. Zacklad (eds): Cooperative Systems Design: Seamless Integration of Artifacts and ConversationsEnhanced Concepts of Infrastructure for Communication, Amsterdam: IOS Press, pp. 23–38.

  • Breure, Adrianne and Juriaan van Meel (2003). Airport offices: facilitating nomadic workers. Facilities, vol. 2, nos. 78, pp. 175–179.

  • Bröckling, Ulrich (2007). Das unternehmerische Selbst. Soziologie einer Subjektivierungsform. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.

  • Brown, Barry and Kenton O’Hara (2003). Place as a practical concern of mobile workers. Environment & Planning A, vol. 35, pp. 1565–1587.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Büscher, Monika and John Urry (2009). Mobile methods and the empirical. European Journal of Social Theory, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 99–116.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Castells, Manuel (1996). The Rise of the Network Society, Volume I of The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

  • Ciolfi, Luigina, Breda Gray, and Anthony D’Andrea (2012). Social Aspects of Place Experience in Nomadic Work/Life Practices. In J. Dugdale, C. Masclet, A. Grasso, and J-F. Boujut (eds): Proceedings of COOP 2012, London: Springer, pp. 183–196.

  • Cohen, Ira (2000): The Detached Involvement: On the Sociology of Solitude. Presented at the Annual Conference of the American Sociological Association, Washington, DC, August 2000.

  • Daniels, Kevin, David Lamond, and Peter Standen (2001). Teleworking: Frameworks for organizational research. Journal of Management Studies, vol. 38, no. 8, pp. 1151–1185.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ellis, Carolyn (1997). Evocative autoethnography: Writing emotionally about our lives. In W. G. Tierney and Y. S. Lincoln (eds): Representation and the text: Re-framing the narrative voice. Albany: State University of New York Press, pp. 115–42.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ellis, Carolyn (2004). The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Felstead, Alan, Nick Jewson, and Sally Walters (2005). Changing Places of Work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Foucault, Michel (1980). The Confession of the Flesh. In C. Gordon (ed): Power/Knowledge Selected Interviews and Other Writings. New York: Pantheon Books, pp. 194–228.

    Google Scholar 

  • Foucault, Michel, Luther H. Martin, Huck Gutman, and Patrick H. Hutton (1988). Technologies of the Self: A Seminar with Michel Foucault: Univ of Massachusetts Press.

  • Gaver, Bill (2002). Provocative awareness. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), vol. 11, nos. 3–4, pp. 475–493.

  • Geertz, Clifford. (1973). The interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Glaser, Barney G. and Anselm L. Strauss (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory. Strategies for Qualitative Research. Chicago: Adline.

  • Gill, Rosalind and Andy Pratt (2008). In the Social Factory?: Immaterial Labour, Precariousness and Cultural Work. Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 25, no. 7–8, pp. 1–30.

  • Goffman, Erving (1963). Behavior in public places: Notes on the social organization of gatherings. New York: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gomart, Emilie and Antoine Hennion (1999). A Sociology of Attachment: Music Amateurs, Drug Users. Sociological Review, Special Issue: ANT, and After, pp. 220–247.

  • Heath, Christian, Jon Hindmarsh, and Paul Luff (2010). Video in qualitative research. London: SAGE Publications Limited.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hesmondhalgh, David and Sarah Baker (2010). ‘A very complicated version of freedom’: Conditions and experiences of creative labour in three cultural industries. Poetics, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 4–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hirschauer, Stefan (2006). Putting Things into Words. Ethnographic Writing and the Silence of the Social. Human Studies. A Journal for Philosophy and the Social Sciences, vol. 29, pp. 413–441.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hislop, Donald and Carolyn Axtell (2007). The neglect of spatial mobility in contemporary studies of work: the case of telework. New Technology, Work and Employment, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 34–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hughes, J., V. King, T. Rodden, and H. Andersen (1994). Moving out from the control room: Ethnography in system design. Proceedings of the 1994 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States, 22–26 October 1994. New York: ACM Press, pp. 429–439.

  • Kesselring, Sven (2012). Betriebliche Mobilitätsregime. Zur sozio-geografischen Strukturierung mobiler Arbeit. Zeitschrift für Soziologie, vol. 41, no. 2, pp. 83–100.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kleinrock, L. (1996). Nomadicity: Anytime, Anywhere in a Disconnected World. Mobile Networks and Applications, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 351–357.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kristoffersen, S. and F. Ljungberg (1999). Mobile Use of IT. In Käkölä, T. K. (ed) Proceedings of the 22nd Information Systems Research Seminar In Scandinavia (IRIS22), Jyväskylä: Jyväskylä University Printing House, pp. 271–284.

  • Laurier, Eric and Chris Philo (2003). The region in the boot: mobilising lone subjects and multiple objects. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 85–106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liegl, Michael (2010). Digital Cornerville: Technische Leidenschaft und musikalische Vergemeinschaftung in New York. Stuttgart: Lucius & Lucius.

    Google Scholar 

  • Liegl, Michael (2011). Die Sorge um den Raum: Mediale Ortlosigkeit und Dispositive der Verortung. In J. Engelmann et al. (eds): testcard. Beiträge zur Popgeschichte #20: Access Denied—Ortsverschiebungen in der realen und virtuellen Gegenwart, pp. 182–189.

  • Makimoto, Tsugio, and David Manners (1997). Digital nomad. Chichester: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mark, Gloria and Norman M. Su (2010). Making infrastructure visible for nomadic work. Pervasive and Mobile Computing, Vol. 6, no. 3, pp. 312–323. doi:10.1016/j.pmcj.2009.12.004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Menger, P.M. (2006). Artistic labour markets: Contingent work, excess supply and occupational risk management. In V.A. Ginsburgh and D. Throsby (eds): Handbook of the Economics of Art and Culture. Elsevier, pp. 765–811.

  • Mumford, Lewis (1961). The City in History. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

    Google Scholar 

  • Polanyi, Michael (1958). Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Polanyi, Michael (1966). The Tacit Dimension. London, Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pratt, Andy C. (2000). New media, the new economy and new spaces, Geoforum, vol. 31, pp. 425–36.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pratt, Andy C. (2002). Hot Jobs in Cool Places. The Material Cultures of New Media Product Spaces: The Case of South of the Market, San Francisco. Information, Communication & Society, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 27–50.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reckwitz, Andreas (2012). Die Erfindung der Kreativität: Zum Prozess gesellschaftlicher Ästhetisierung. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag.

  • Ross, A. (2003). No-collar: The Humane Workplace and Its Hidden Costs. New York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rossitto, Chiara and Kerstin Severinson Eklundh (2007). Managing work at several places: a case of project work in a nomadic group of students. In: W.P. Brinkman, D.H. Ham, and B. L. Wong (eds): Proceedings of the 14th European conference on Cognitive ergonomics: invent! explore!, London, United Kingdom, 28–31 August 2007. New York: ACM Press, pp. 45–51.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sheller, Mimi and John Urry (2006). The new mobilities paradigm. Environment and Planning A, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 207–226.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Spinuzzi, Clay (2012). Working Alone Together: Coworking as Emergent Collaborative Activity. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 399–441.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Su, Norman Makoto and Gloria Mark (2008). Designing for nomadic work. In J. Van Der Schijff and G. Marsden (eds): DIS ‘08 Proceedings of the 7 th ACM conference on designing interactive systems. New York: ACM Press, pp. 305–314.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Sudnow, David (2001). Ways of the hand: a rewritten account. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Toffler, Alvin (1980). The Third Wave. New York: Morrow.

    Google Scholar 

  • Towse, Ruth (1992). The labour market for artists. Richerce Economiche, vol. 46, pp. 55–74.

    Google Scholar 

  • Twidale, Michael B. (2005). Over the Shoulder Learning: Supporting Brief Informal Learning. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, vol. 14, no. 6, pp. 505–547.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Urry, John (2007). Mobilities. Cambridge: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  • van Heur, Bas (2010). Creative Networks and the City. Towards a Cultural Political Economy of Aesthetic Production. Bielefeld: transcript.

  • Wacquant, Loïc (2004). Body and Soul: Ethnographic Notebooks of An Apprentice-Boxer. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wellmann, Barry (2001). Physical Place and Cyberspace: The Rise of Personalized Networking. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 227–252.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


I thank Sabrina Hofmann, Désirée Bender and David Waldecker for assistance in data collection. This paper greatly profited from comments and suggestions of my colleagues Martin Stempfhuber, Natascha Nisic, Monika Büscher, Lilian Coates and three anonymous reviewers.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael Liegl.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Liegl, M. Nomadicity and the Care of Place—on the Aesthetic and Affective Organization of Space in Freelance Creative Work. Comput Supported Coop Work 23, 163–183 (2014).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Key words