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Automobiles and Socioeconomic Sustainability

Do We Need a Mobility Bill of Rights?

Daniel Newman

This article argues for the establishment of a Mobility Bill of Rights. That the current car system is not sustainable in environmental terms has been much discussed in academic circles and is increasingly accepted in wider society, as reflected by governmental attempts at reform. The current trend for remodeling this car system largely involves the substitution of petrol/diesel for potentially more ecologically sound methods of powering the vehicles such as electricity. Attempts to reach environmental sustainability in this manner do little to impact social or economic sustainability and thus will fail to address the triple bottom line. Rather, reliance on automobiles in the present vein may continue trends for mobility-related exclusion. To tackle this, we need a debate on how the transport needs of ordinary people can be met.

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Media Ecologies of Autonomous Automobility

Gendered and Racial Dimensions of Future Concept Cars

Julia M. Hildebrand and Mimi Sheller

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.

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Bill Luckin

This international overview focuses on the conflict between drivers and non- drivers in Britain, France, the United States, Germany, and Sweden during the interwar period. It suggests that on neither side of the Channel did pro-pedestrian movements make a major impact on national safety legislation. In the U.S.A. automobile-manufacturing interest groups undermined what they perceived to be threatening neighborhood opposition to the onward rush of the automobile. In Germany, which had earlier experienced high levels of anti-car activity, Hitler-inspired commitment to modernization nevertheless led, by the mid-1930s, to the consolidation of punitive measures against erring drivers. In Sweden, however, there appears to have been a high degree of complementarity between pro-motorism and policies designed to minimize dangerous driving. The paper concludes that an understanding of this “deviant“ position may be deepened through scrutiny of the values associated with the Swedish Social Democratic Workers' Party (SAP). A similar approach might be applied to the other nations discussed in the article.

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From the Auto-mobile to the Driven Subject?

Discursive Assertions of Mobility Futures

Katharina Manderscheid

The car has been identified as an element of modern identities, interwoven also with gender relations. The masculinity of the automobile subject draws on the steering and controlling of the car as a technological object. Thus, driverless cars potentially call into question the gendering of the automobile subject. With the aim to assess this potential degendering, in this article I analyze two very different visions of driverless automobility. The focus is placed on the imagined users, the sociospatial context, and its gendered dimensions. I then reflect on the status of the videos, elaborating on their impact on the future of (auto)mobility and their meaning for mobility research. Gendering of cars, then, is seen as an element of a deeper socioeconomic order and its inherent power relations. Thus, future genderings cannot be simply read off technological visions but will instead develop in unforeseeable social contestations.

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“The Song They Sing Is the Song of the Road”

Motoring and the Semantics of Space in Early Twentieth-Century British Travel Writing

Martin Walter

When, in the early twentieth century, British middle-class writers went on a tour in search of their country, travel writing not only saw the re-emergence of the home tour, but also the increasing appearance of the motorcar on British roads. With the travelogue playing the role of a discursive arena in which debates about automobility were visualized, the article argues that, as they went “in search of England,” writers like Henry Vollam Morton and J. B. Priestley not only took part in the ideological framing of motoring as a social practice, but also contributed to a change in the perception of accessing a seemingly remote English countryside. By looking at a number of contemporary British travelogues, the analysis traces the strategies of how the driving subjects staged their surroundings, and follows the authors' changing attitudes toward the cultural habit of traveling: instead of highlighting the seemingly static nature of the meaning of space, the travelogues render motoring a dynamic and procedural spatial practice, thus influencing notions of nature, progress, and tradition.

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Transfers between Media and Mobility

Automobilism, Early Cinema, and Literature, 1900-1920

Dorit Müller

The essay analyzes the interrelationship between media technologies and the development of mobility based on a concrete historical constellation—the emergence of automobilism and its representation in literature and film between 1900 and 1920. The focus lies on Western European countries and most notably on Italian and German literature as well as British, German, and French films. During that period, the portrayal of the automobile in these countries shows a dominant pattern: due to their speed, cars seem to embody a destructive power per se. This is expressed by numerous violence-related scenarios. However, the accentuation of destructive tendencies cannot only be described as a response to increased risks. Rather, they are a product of media technologies and media-specific aesthetics, too: film, establishing itself as a new media form experimenting with “dynamization“ and destruction; and literature, responding to the new visual media using dynamic language and the demolition of traditional poetic forms. Consequently, the noticeable surge in technology around 1900 created new and different types of mobility in the areas of transportation and media, influencing each other.

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Georgine Clarsen

Paul Gilroy observed in 2001 that there were “surprisingly few” discussions of automobiles in histories of African American vernacular cultures, in spite of their “epoch-making impact.” He argued that a “ distinctive history of propertylessness and material deprivation” had led to a disproportionate African American investment in automobiles. This article considers how car culture has also operated as a salve for the “indignities of white supremacy” for Indigenous Australians, though on very different terms.

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Road against Rail

The Debate on Transport Policy in Belgium, 1920-1940

Donald Weber

When new motorized means of transport, such as buses, vans, and lorries, captured part of the transport market in Belgium in the interwar period, the rail companies engaged in a political fight to restrict the new modes of road transport. Attempts were made to introduce fiscal and administrative measures aimed at limiting road transport. This coincided with an intense debate on transport policy, both in the press and in parliament. The article focuses on the discourse driving this debate. It is argued that the positions taken were motivated by economic issues, but that there were underlying cultural motivations, different perceptions of what transport should represent in the lives of the users and the whole of society. The focus on the so-called coordination debate is widened beyond the conflict between trains and vans in the 1930s, to include the conflict between automobiles, buses, and trams in the 1920s.

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The Morality of Motoring

The Emergence of the Automobile in Belgium, 1895-1940

Donald Weber

The emergence of the automobile in Belgium from 1895 onwards brutally disrupted the traditional social order on the roads, transforming social practices and the order of society from the mundane-the everyday use of transport-to the more rarified-urban planning and the use of public space. In this article, we will deal with the earliest history of motorization in Belgium. We will analyze motorization as a process of interaction between a specific set of social actors, and focus on its outcome: modern traffic policy as a conflict-management strategy. It is argued that traffic policy evolved from an originally moral strategy into a technical strategy, as engineers and the public road administration introduced Foucauldian approaches in order to discipline the traffic system.

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Cycles of Cathay

A History of the Bicycle in China

Edward J.M. Rhoads

Introduced into China in the late nineteenth century, the bicycle had to compete with a variety of alternative modes of personal transportation that for a number of years limited its appeal and utility. Thus, during the 1920s and 1930s it took a back seat to the hand-pulled rickshaw and during the 1940s to the pedicab (cycle rickshaw). It was only in the 1950s that the bicycle became the primary means of transportation for most urban Chinese. For the next four decades, as its use spread from the city to the countryside, China was the iconic “bicycle kingdom.“ Since the 1990s, however, the pedal-powered bicycle has been overtaken by the automobile (and motorcycle). Nevertheless, with the recent appearance and growing popularity of the e-bike, the bicycle may yet play an important role in China's transport modal mix. This overview history of the bicycle in China is based on a wide range of textual sources in English and Chinese as well as pictorial images.