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The City and the Car.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date2000
JournalInternational Journal of Urban and Regional Research
Number of pages21
Original languageEnglish


The social sciences have generally ignored the motor car and its awesome consequences for social life, especially in their analysis of the urban. Urban studies in particular has failed to consider the overwhelming impact of the automobile in transforming the time-space 'scapes' of the modern urban/suburban dweller. Focusing on forms of mobility into, across and through the city, we consider how the car reconfigures urban life, involving distinct ways of dwelling, travelling and socializing in, and through, an automobilized time-space. We trace urban sociology's paradoxical resistance to cultures of mobility, and argue that civil society should be reconceptualized as a 'civil society of automobility'. We then explore how automobility makes instantaneous time and the negotiation of extensive space central to how social life is configured. As people dwell in and socially interact through their cars, they become hyphenated car-drivers: at home in movement, transcending distance to complete a series of activities within fragmented moments of time. Urban social life has always entailed various mobilities but the car transforms these in a distinct combination of flexibility and coercion. Automobility is a complex amalgam of interlocking machines, social practices and ways of dwelling which have reshaped citizenship and the public sphere via the mobilization of modern civil societies. In the conclusion we trace a vision of an evolved automobility for the cities of tomorrow in which public space might again be made 'public'.