What is Displacement? Concepts and Acceptions in Various Spheres

What is Displacement?

We explain what displacement is, what demographic displacement consists of and other meanings of this term.

What is Displacement

The displacement is used to contrast with the idea of distance travelled.

Displacement is understood as the movement made by a body that moves, that moves, from one place to another.

People and most objects are susceptible to move, which is the only way to change relative position in space. If it is observed that a body is in a different place in two moments, it means that the body has moved.

This first definition, given from physics, is used to contrast it with the idea of distance travelled. Supposing a car going through the streets of a city, it can be illustrated: the distance traveled will be the total number of blocks crossed, doubling as many times as necessary.

The displacement, on the other hand, will become the straight line that joins the place where it was at the beginning with the place where it is at the end. Because it is a line that goes from one place to another, when we talk about displacement we are referring to a vector.

It will have a direction and a sense, and a module and a name that will describe the movement made by the body, regardless of the trajectory it took.

You can classify the displacements in:

  • Positive displacement. It is the subsequent shift to a position other than the primary position, as mentioned above.
  • Negative displacement. The one in which the body returns to its original position.

Different specifications are directly related to the study of body displacements, and are also of utmost importance, such as for example:

  • Trajectory. It is the set of intermediate positions through which the body has passed during its movement or translation. In other words, it is the type of curve that the same body describes when carrying out the action of displacement, of change of position with respect to an axis of coordinates.
  • Distance This has the ability to be measured because it is the scalar magnitude of the length of the trajectory traveled by the body in its displacement. Depending on the scale used to measure, the nominal result is different, but in all cases the distance is cumulatively positive.
  • Speed. This is a magnitude that is expressed by the relationship between the physical space traveled by the object per unit of time. It is a rhythm, or also called “exchange rate”, by which the change of position is given for each unit of time.

Demographic shifts

Internal displacement can be caused by armed conflict or persecution, among others.  

In demography, internal displacement is the movement of a mass of people, when it ceases to be for individual motives and becomes a collective act derived from a cause beyond their control.

This is a group of people who are forced to escape or flee from their usual place of residence, dispersing among several places or concentrating to live in the same area.

The causes of internal displacement can be armed conflict, human rights violations, persecution, lack of employment opportunities or natural or human disasters.

Displaced persons should not be confused with persons who have simply migrated from one country to another or from one city to another, since the former have done so without any choice.

It is for this reason that they are particularly vulnerable: they have abruptly changed the organization of their community, they have probably eliminated their main source of income, they may be subject to processes of distress and depression because of their remoteness from their place of origin or their family, and if the family is also part of the displacement, children’s schooling may be lost or limited.

The fear of persecution often persists, and it is common for displaced persons not to have documentation with which they can claim rights.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) seeks to provide protection and guarantees to these people, who have been hit so hard.

Other types of displacement

  • In chemistry, displacement is the phenomenon that occurs in various reactions involving a compound and an element. For usually electrostatic reasons, the aggregate element can displace another element of the compound, thus producing its displacement, so that the displaced element is replaced by the new one, from that chemical reaction produced.
  • In maritime navigation, the term displacement is used to refer to the weight of a unit in relation to its load capacity. It is, otherwise, the weight of the volume of water that displaces the submerged part of the boat. The unit in which the nautical displacement is expressed is the metric ton, and the calculation of the maximum displacement is done with the vessel ready to sail (including passengers, fuel tanks, safety elements, etc.). In addition to the maximum weight, the thread displacement, which describes the weight of the boat completely empty, is usually analysed. The difference between one and the other is the maximum load weight, known as dead weight.

In psychology, displacement is one of the defense mechanisms that consists in the diversion of emotional feelings to a substitute objective. In the analysis of dreams it appears as an unconscious act of abandonment of representations, sliding down associative paths.

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