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Digital nomads: freedom, responsibility and the neoliberal order

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Abstract

Digital nomads are individuals who, taking advantage of portable computing technologies and widespread Internet access, can work remotely from any location and use this freedom to explore the world. Using ethnographic and netnographic research, this article outlines this recent phenomenon, framing it into the lens of lifestyle mobilities and individualization theories. It adds to existing research by focusing on the new set of responsibilities and commitments entailed by the individualization process. In research participants’ explanations, disengaging from sedentary life enabled them to express an ethos of freedom, in which minimalism, uncertainty and risk replace material accumulation, stability and comfort. It is important however to pay attention to the structural constraints within which their ethos of freedom operates. The aim of the article is twofold: on one hand, it contrasts digital nomads’ sociocultural imaginaries of (in)mobility with the specific economic strategies they use to sustain their continuous mobility, including geoarbitrage and the commodification of network capital. On the other, it provides fresh ethnographic evidence on how digital nomads’ self-realization project meets the ideology of entrepreneurialism, allowing them to take advantage of privileged nationalities to navigate the global inequalities of the capitalist system. The article argues that, rather than a challenge to the system, digital nomadism is an opportunistic adaptation to neoliberal impacts.

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Notes

  1. At the time of writing, the largest of these groups has 119,000 members, up from 6,000 when I joined. The newer female- oriented community, now has 58,471 members, and the local Chiang Mai one has about 35,000 members. Local forums generally seem to be more active and oriented to solving practicalities and organising gatherings, while general ones address questions related to the lifestyle and its challenges.

  2. Bootstrapping means to start up an Internet-based business or other enterprise with minimal financial resources.

  3. The data provided after each interview extract report the pseudonym of the interviewee, her/his age at the time of the interview, the technique of data collection, and the month and year the interview took place).

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Acknowledgements

I wish to thank the anonymous reviewers for their insightful remarks, Dr. Susan Frekko for English language editing and generous feedback, and Alexandra Elbakyan for her contribution to disseminating knowledge. The editing of this paper received financial support by the Research Commission of the Faculty of Geography and History of the University of Barcelona.

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Correspondence to Fabiola Mancinelli.

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Mancinelli, F. Digital nomads: freedom, responsibility and the neoliberal order. Inf Technol Tourism 22, 417–437 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40558-020-00174-2

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