Media Ecologies of Autonomous Automobility

Gendered and Racial Dimensions of Future Concept Cars

in Transfers
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Abstract

The imagination of automated automobility puts into question the control of the vehicle by a masculine driver and potentially disturbs feelings of safety, power, security, and freedom. Given that systems of automobility and communication technology are already gendered and racialized in particular ways, this article explores how recent “premediated” depictions of automated car technologies reconfigure and reproduce the historically gendered and raced representations, meanings, and practices of (auto)mobility. This inquiry employs a media ecological approach within the qualitative analysis of two concept car previews by Nissan and Volvo. Rather than a degendering of the driver, we suggest a multiplication of gendered and racialized technologies of mobility via several forms of hypermediation. We also explore how the autonomous car continues to evoke utopian spatial metaphors of the car as sanctuary and communicative environment while allaying fears of dystopian metaphors of the vehicle as traffic trap, virtual glass house, and algorithmic target.

Contributor Notes

Julia M. Hildebrand, MA, is a PhD candidate in Communication, Culture, and Media at Drexel University in Philadelphia and works as Research Assistant at Drexel University’s Center for Mobilities Research and Policy. With a background in comparative media studies, her current research interests include mediated mobilities, media theory, and visual culture. E-mail: julia.m.hildebrand@drexel.edu

Mimi Sheller, PhD, is Professor of Sociology and Director of the Center for Mobilities Research and Policy at Drexel University in Philadelphia. She is also past President of the International Association for the History of Transport, Traffic and Mobility, and coeditor of Mobilities. E-mail: mimi.sheller@drexel.edu