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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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Taking the Road for Play

Cyclist Appropriations of Automobile Infrastructures in Vietnam

Ashley Carruthers

After declining in status and mode share sharply with the popularization of the motorcycle, cycling in Vietnam is on the rise. Urban elites who pursue sport and leisure cycling are the most visible of Vietnam’s new cyclists, and they bring their sense of social mastery out onto the road with them by appropriating the nation’s new, automobile-focused infrastructures as places for play and display. While motivated by self-interest, their informal activism around securing bicycle access to new bridges and highways potentially benefits all and contributes to making livable cities. These socially elite cyclists transcend the status associated with their means of mobility as they enact their mastery over automobile infrastructures meant to usher in a new Vietnamese automobility.

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Diverse Driving Emotions

Exploring Chinese Migrants’ Mobilities in a Car-Dependent City

Sophie-May Kerr, Natascha Klocker and Gordon Waitt

In the industrialized West, cars are considered an essential part of everyday life. Their dominance is underpinned by the challenges of managing complex, geographically stretched daily routines. Drivers’ emotional and embodied relationships with automobiles also help to explain why car cultures are difficult to disrupt. This article foregrounds ethnic diversity to complicate notions of a “love affair” with the car. We report on the mobilities of fourteen Chinese migrants living in Sydney, Australia—many of whom described embodied dispositions against the car, influenced by their life histories. Their emotional responses to cars and driving, shaped by transport norms and infrastructures in their places of origin, ranged from pragmatism and ambivalence to fear and hostility. The lived experiences of these migrants show that multiple cultures of mobility coexist, even in ostensibly car-dependent societies. Migrants’ life histories and contemporary practices provide an opportunity to reflect on fissures in the logic of automobility.

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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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Keep Moving, Stay Tuned

The Construction of Flow in and through Radio Traffic Reports

Marith Dieker

With the rise of privatized automobility and the increase of traffic jams, new sociotechnical systems have emerged that aim at traffic control. Radio traffic information has been a key element in these systems. Through a qualitative analysis of historical radio broadcasts of the largest Dutch news station between 1960 and 2000, this article explores the changing format and content of traffic information updates. I will show how the rather formal, detailed, and paternalistic narratives of the traffic reports in the 1960s gave way to more informal, witty, yet flow-controlling traffic information discourse in later decades. I will explain the dynamics involved by drawing on mobility and media studies and by developing two distinct notions of flow, one of which builds conceptually on Raymond Williams’s work on mobile privatization, the other is grounded in the field of traffic management. In so doing, this article aims to contribute to a better understanding of the role of public radio broadcasts in our world of privatized automobility.

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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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Paul Smith

Collecting old cars, like a cocaine habit, seems to be one of nature’s ways of telling you you are making too much money. Think of Pink Floyd’s drummer Nick Mason and his private collection of Ferraris. Think of the American pharmaceutical heir Josiah K. Lilly III and his vintage automobiles displayed in an imitation Shaker barn-house at a heritage park on Cape Cod. Or remember Hans and Fritz Schlumpf, Alsatian textile magnates unable to resist another Bugatti. Indeed, the brothers’ passion helped lead their firm into bankruptcy and their collection––more than 500 vehicles, including 150 Bugattis––ended up as France’s national motorcar museum, the Cité de l’Automobile, opened at Mulhouse in 1982.

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Greg Thompson

James J. Flink “has clearly established himself as the leading authority on the history of the automobile and has written a major work that will repay careful study by all scholars interested in the 20th century,” wrote cultural historian Joseph J. Corn in 1989 in a review of The Automobile Age. Corn did not write “transportation scholars” but “all scholars,” and was alluding to Flink’s approach to periodizing history around progressive technological change rather than around political administrations or wars. Corn continued, “[Flink] views the car, or more accurately automobility, as being a major protagonist in the historical dramas of the period,” quoting passages that pinned the Great Depression on the saturation of the automobile market and attributed the allies’ triumph in the Second World War to superior mass-production capability stemming from the American automobile industry. Corn also observed, “Flink significantly demolished the myth, repeated by too many historians, that the American experience with automobiles has been exceptional .... Moreover, he concludes, the ‘appeals of the car were universal, not culturally determined’ (pp. 28–29).” Flink published at least two more important articles and was writing his fourth book on the automobile when he retired from his professorship in Comparative Culture at the University of California at Irvine in 1994. Since then, he eschewed academic and professional activity, despite numerous entreaties. However, when I, a former student of Flink’s and now a transportation planning professor, asked him to reflect on his influential career, Flink welcomed the opportunity. I traveled to Professor Flink’s southern California home in March 2012 for the interview, which took place on March 2.2

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“Four Guys and a Hole in the Floor”

Racial Politics of Mobility and Excretion among BC-Based Long Haul Truckers

Amie McLean

In this article, I map out the foundational context and procedural dynamics through which the normative status of the white male trucker is achieved and maintained in the British Columbia-based long haul trucking industry. I pay particular attention to the dehumanizing racism and masculine subordination directed toward South Asian truckers. Drawing on ethnographic data, I socially and historically situate these dynamics in relation to Canadian national mythologies, practices of nation building, and the neoliberal organization of trucking labor. To provide a richly detailed analysis of precisely how these narrative dynamics shape hierarchies of race and mobility in the industry, I examine a pervasive, racializing story among white truckers concerning workplace politics and practices of excretion.