Abstracts and Keywords

The ‘System’ of Automobility
John Urry
This article is concerned with how to conceptualize and theorize the nature of the ‘car system’
that is a particularly key, if surprisingly neglected, element in ‘globalization’. The article
deploys the notion of systems as self-reproducing or autopoietic. This notion is used to under-
stand the origins of the 20th-century car system and especially how its awesome pattern of
path dependency was established and exerted a particularly powerful and self-expanding
pattern of domination across the globe. The article further considers whether and how the
20th-century car system may be transcended. It elaborates a number of small changes that
are now occurring in various test sites, factories, ITC sites, cities and societies. The article
briefly considers whether these small changes may in their contingent ordering end this
current car system. The article assesses whether such a new system could emerge well before
the end of this century, whether in other words some small changes now may produce the
very large effect of a new post-car system that would have great implications for urban life,
for mobility and for limiting projected climate change.
Keywords automobility Ⅵ path dependence Ⅵ technology Ⅵ time-space Ⅵ tipping point
Driving in the City
Nigel Thrift
This article argues that de Certeau’s understanding of walking as the archetypal transhuman
practice of making the city habitable cannot hold in a post-human world. By concentrating
on the practices of driving, I argue that other experiences of the city can have an equal
validity. In other words, de Certeau’s work on everyday life in the city needs to be reworked
in order to take into account the rise of automobility. The bulk of this article is devoted to
exploring how that goal might be achieved, concentrating in particular on how new knowl-
edge like software and ergonomics has become responsible for a large-scale spatial re-
ordering of the city which presages an important change in what counts as making the city
Keywords automobility Ⅵ de Certeau Ⅵ ergonomics Ⅵ everyday life

Theory, Culture & Society 2004 (SAGE, London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi),
Vol. 21(4/5): 279–284
DOI: 10.1177/0263276404048624
14 048624 (jr/d) 15/9/04 1:11 pm Page 279
The Driver-car
Tim Dant
The car has become ubiquitous in late modern society and has become the leading object
in the ordinary social relations of mobility. Despite its centrality to the culture and material
form of modern societies, the relationship between the car and human beings has remained
largely unexplored by sociology. This article argues that cars are combined with their drivers
into an assemblage, the ‘driver-car’, which has become a form of social being that brings
about distinctive social actions in modern society – driving, transporting, parking, consum-
ing, polluting, killing, communicating and so on. To understand the nature of this assem-
blage a number of theoretical perspectives that describe the interaction and collaboration
between human beings and complex objects are explored; the process of driving, ‘affordance’,
actor-network theory, and the embodied relationship between driver and car. This theoreti-
cal account of the driver-car is intended as a preliminary to the empirical investigation of
the place of the driver-car in modern societies.
Keywords actor-network theory Ⅵ affordances Ⅵ car Ⅵ embodiment Ⅵ Merleau-Ponty
Mobility and Safety
Jörg Beckmann
The article offers an insight into road traffic accidents by unravelling both the internal
elements and the social context of the so-called car–driver hybrid. It takes a critical perspec-
tive on the art of designing road safety. More importantly, it seeks to contribute to social
studies of transport and mobility through development of analytical concepts within the disci-
pline. The points of departure are the inherent ambiguities of mobility. The author suggests
that ‘being in traffic’ is always determined by coexisting forms of mobility and immobility.
This ambivalent stage is then called motility. The author discusses car-drivers as motile
hybrids, as they are mobile and immobile, as well as subjects and objects at the same time.
In order to apply these concepts, the question of what happens to hybrids in crashes is
addressed, employing Bruno Latour’s concept of ‘immutable mobiles’. The article concludes
with a discussion of the social role of road safety experts, arguing that transport safety experts
create a specific kind of spatio-temporal order within which the motile hybrid exists. It is
the safety professional who decides when to take agency away from the subject and give it
to the object, and it s/he who determines where to slow down and where to speed up the
car–driver hybrid.
Keywords accidents Ⅵ (auto)mobility Ⅵ hybridity Ⅵ motility Ⅵ safety
Automobility and National Identity: Representation, Geography and Driving
Tim Edensor
Accounts of the nation and national identity have tended to focus upon the transmission by
cultural elites of authoritative culture, invented traditions and folk customs. Following Billig,
I suggest that the national is increasingly located in the everyday and in the realm of popular
culture; far more so than in ‘high’ and ‘official’ forms of culture. To exemplify this, I discuss
national automobilities, specifically exploring the role of iconic models, mundane
motorscapes and the everyday, habitual performances of driving. With a particular focus
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upon British and Indian car cultures, I further suggest that the ‘national’ is not a singular or
monolithic entity but is constituted out of a vast matrix of interrelated elements, three of
which are the models, geographies and performances identified above. As the national pro-
liferates and expands, becoming globalized, it generates multiple forms of national identity,
although consistencies and points of focus remain. Accordingly, as in other cultural fields,
I argue that while global manifestations of automobility proliferate, this has not necessarily
diminished the salience of the national in the relationship between driving cars and identity.
The national thus remains a powerful constituent of identity precisely because of its often
unreflexive grounding in everyday spaces and practices.
Keywords automobilities Ⅵ Britain Ⅵ icons Ⅵ India Ⅵ motorscapes Ⅵ national identity Ⅵ
Cars and Nations: Anglo-German Perspectives on Automobility between the
World Wars
Rudy Koshar
This article argues that historically specific, transnational structures and conjunctures influ-
ence the car’s national belongingness. Neither historians nor sociologists have devoted
sufficient attention to how the automobile mediates cultural processes in general and national
identification in particular, the article maintains. Using a British motoring journalist’s obser-
vations on the 1928 Berlin Auto Show, the discussion explores how the Mercedes worked as
a symbol of German automotive tradition, a marker of international relations between Britain
and Germany, and a spur to anxieties about the effects of mass production techniques and
US automobility for both countries. The article then turns to small cars, demonstrating that
the British observer’s embrace of German and Continental small-car design belied longer-
term anxieties about the level and nature of British automobility, while simultaneously
mirroring German dissatisfactions and hopes regarding the potential for mass auto owner-
ship in the form of the Volkswagen. If cars in some sense ‘belong’ to nations, the study
concludes, then it is important to stress how the continuities and discontinuities that
condition such belongingness often work across national borders in historically unique
Keywords Anglo-German relations Ⅵ automotive cultures Ⅵ automotive industries Ⅵ
Mercedes Ⅵ national identity Ⅵ nationality Ⅵ Volkswagen
Driving Places: Marc Augé, Non-places, and the Geographies of England’s M1
Peter Merriman
In this article I provide a critical account of the ‘placing’ of England’s M1 motorway. I start
by critiquing Marc Augé’s anthropological writings on ‘non-places’ which have provided a
common point of reference for academics discussing spaces of travel, consumption and
exchange in the contemporary world. I argue that Augé’s ethnology of supermodernity results
in a rather partial account of these sites, that he overstates the novelty of contemporary
experiences of these spaces, and that he fails to acknowledge the heterogeneity and materi-
ality of the social networks bound up with the production of non-places/places. I suggest
that, rather than focusing on the presences and absences associated with the polarities of
place and non-place, academics should examine the multiple, partial, dynamic and relational
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‘placings’ which arise through the diverse performances and movements associated with
travel, consumption and exchange. I then trace the topologies of England’s M1 motorway,
examining some of the different ways in which the motorway has been assembled, performed
and placed over the past 45 years.
Keywords anthropology Ⅵ car Ⅵ cultural geography Ⅵ late modernity Ⅵ mobility Ⅵ place
Three Ages of the Automobile: The Cultural Logics of the Car
David Gartman
The automobile as an object of consumption, carrying meanings and identities, has evolved
through three ages during the 20th century, each characterized by a peculiar cultural logic.
In the age of class distinction, the car served as a status symbol of the sort theorized by
Pierre Bourdieu. It marked out differences between classes, while simultaneously misrec-
ognizing and legitimating their origins. In the age of mass individuality, the car was a reified
consumer commodity, as postulated by the theory of the Frankfurt School. It served to obscure
qualitative class differences underneath the illusion of mass individuality, in which
consumers varied by the quantity of desired automotive traits they could afford. In the age
of subcultural difference, the car expressed the different identities of lifestyle groups in a
leveled and pluralized consumer culture, as theorized by postmodernism. The extension of
the cultural logic of each of these automotive ages ultimately contradicted its configuration,
and pushed the car forward to the next age.
Keywords Adorno Ⅵ automobile Ⅵ Bourdieu Ⅵ consumption Ⅵ Fordism Ⅵ post-Fordism Ⅵ
Auto Couture: Thinking the Car in Post-war France
David Inglis
The automobile has figured as an important issue of concern and a profound source of fasci-
nation for a wide range of intellectuals in France since the 1950s. The car has been under-
stood variously as a covert vehicle of creeping Americanization and consumerization, a
threatening object that obliterates nature, a harbinger of hyper-modern futures, and as a
constitutive element of everyday practices. This article traces out the diverse ways in which
the car has been ‘good to think with’ for a range of French intellectuals in the period spanning
roughly from 1950 through to the 1970s. It seeks to demonstrate the richness of those
currents of thought in post-war France which were concerned to comprehend the nature of
car cultures. It is argued that these ways of thinking can be drawn upon in the present day
by those wishing to analyse contemporary features of automobility.
Keywords automobilities Ⅵ Barthes Ⅵ Baudrillard Ⅵ cars Ⅵ France Ⅵ Lefebvre
Automotive Emotions: Feeling the Car
Mimi Sheller
Car cultures have social, material and, above all, affective dimensions that are overlooked
in current strategies to influence car-driving decisions. Car consumption is never simply
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about rational economic choices, but is as much about aesthetic, emotional and sensory
responses to driving, as well as patterns of kinship, sociability, habitation and work. Through
a close examination of the aesthetic and especially kinaesthetic dimensions of automobility,
this article locates car cultures (and their associated feelings) within a broader
physical/material relational setting that includes both human bodies and car bodies, and the
relations between them and the spaces through which they move (or fail to move). Drawing
on both the phenomenology of car use and new approaches in the sociology of emotions, it
is argued that everyday car cultures are implicated in a deep context of affective and
embodied relations between people, machines and spaces of mobility and dwelling in which
emotions and the senses play a key part – the emotional geographies of car use. Feelings
for, of and within cars (‘automotive emotions’) come to be socially and culturally generated
across three scales involved in the circulations and displacements performed by cars, roads
and drivers: embodied sensibilities and kinaesthetic performances; familial and sociable
practices of ‘caring’ through car use; and regional and national car cultures that form around
particular systems of automobility. By showing how people feel about and in cars, and how
the feel of different car cultures generates habitual forms of automobilized life and different
dispositions towards driving, it is argued that we will be in a better position to re-evaluate
the ethical dimensions of car consumption and the moral economies of car use.
Keywords affective economies Ⅵ body practices Ⅵ emotional geographies Ⅵ kinaesthetics Ⅵ
material cultures
Automobility and the Power of Sound
Michael Bull
This article analyses the connections between forms of solitary automobile habitation and
the use of mobile sound technologies in automobiles: the radio, cassette, sound system and
mobile phone. It does this through an empirically informed analysis of automobile use. In
doing so it re-evaluates our understanding of the occupation of space and place, arguing that
traditional concepts of urban space have underestimated the active role that the users of
these communication technologies might have in transforming the meaning of these spaces
as they pass through them. The article points to the powerful, and potentially problematic,
role that sound technologies play in the daily experience of moving through the city.
Keywords automobility Ⅵ fluidity Ⅵ mobility Ⅵ solitariness Ⅵ sound technologies
Doing Office Work on the Motorway
Eric Laurier
This article takes the motorway seriously as a place where the society of traffic can be found
and studied. While many kinds of activities are done by drivers and passengers in parallel
with driving on the motorway, such as listening to the radio, eating lunch or caring for, or
being, children, I focus here on office work. Empirical material from a video-ethnography of
one driver doing paperwork and overtaking a slow-moving vehicle ahead is used to examine
in detail some of the practices of combining driving and office-duties in the car while in
motion. Drawing on the work of Harvey Sacks, the article examines how this mobile society
is naturally organized as an architectural configuration brought to life in the practices of
driving in traffic. Overlooked phenomena that are orderly stable features of being mobile are
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analysed, such as ‘overtaking’, ‘tailgating’ and ‘cruising’. Where other writers have used
‘speed’ to theorize the contemporary period, a brief re-specification is offered in the light of
the uses, moral and otherwise, of speed within, and as made apprehensible in relation to,
Keywords ethnomethodology Ⅵ motorway Ⅵ office work Ⅵ Harvey Sacks Ⅵ speed Ⅵ traffic
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