Combustion, Hydraulic, and Other Forms of Masculinity

An Essay Exploring Dominant Values and Representations of the Driver in Driverless Technology

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Sarah Redshaw Independent scholar

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This article presents two representations of masculinity based on media images found in television and online promotion related to motor vehicles. The dominant image in much advertising is the bursting, thrusting power of what I refer to as “combustion” masculinity, identified as active engagement and connected with significant road trauma. The less visible, fluid power found in professional driving that I refer to as “hydraulic” masculinity draws on precision and awareness of the surroundings rather than aggressive force. Social analysis of electric and driverless vehicle promotion and media discussion indicate that moving to electric and fully automated driving requires overcoming the essential contradiction of combustion power, as it is associated with cars and freedom. Alternative modes and images of being mobile must be highlighted in order to challenge the combustion image. Fundamentally, activity should be ascribed to all mobile persons, and policy and mobility systems should be designed to maximize mobility for all.

Contributor Notes

Sarah Redshaw has developed and conducted several research projects specializing in qualitative social research and analysis. She has developed studies on the social and cultural aspects of young people’s engagement with cars, including as an Australian Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellow on the Linkage project “Transforming Drivers.” She has published many articles and a book, In the Company of Cars: Driving as a Social and Cultural Practice (Ashgate, 2008), from this research, as well as papers and reports on several health and community-related projects, including most recently on vulnerability, social capital, and community resilience. E-mail:

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