RGS-IBG 2017 CfP: Systems of (auto)mobility: Continuities, disruptions and futures

Paper session at the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2017, London,
29 August – 1 September, 2017

Systems of (auto)mobility: Continuities, disruptions and futures

Convenors: Brendan Doody (University of Cambridge) and Debbie Hopkins (University of Oxford)

It has been over a decade since John Urry’s (2004) influential paper ‘The ‘system’ of automobility’ was published. In it he sought to account for the expansion and continuing ascendancy of the car and the ‘specific character of domination’ it entails (p. 27). Having explored the ‘awesome’ social, cultural and environmental consequences of the car he concludes by considering a number of ‘technical-economic, social and policy transformations that in their dynamic interdependence might tip mobility into a new [post-car] system’ (Urry, 2004, p. 33). For Urry, new fuel systems (e.g., batteries; hybrid; hydrogen fuel cells), new materials, smart vehicles, digitization, de-privatizing of vehicles (e.g., car clubs; car-hire schemes), new transport policies and new living, work and leisure practices would potentially become central elements of this new ‘vehicle system’.

In the intervening years since its publication, a number of the emergent elements identified by Urry have become evident. This has prompted a number of scholars to claim that the post-car system is on the horizon in the global North due to processes such as ‘peak car, rail renaissance, cycling boom, the rise of mobile information and communication technologies, and broader lifestyle and cultural changes’ (Cohen, 2012; Metz, 2015; Newman and Kenworthy, 2011; Schwanen, 2016, p. 155).

As Schwanen (2016, p. 155) and others (Wells and Niewenhuis, 2012) have observed such analyses are far by no means unproblematic and tend to fail to sufficiently account for the ‘capacity of automobility to endure’. The alarming growth rate of car ownership in the global South (especially China and India); the ability of car manufactures to delay more radical forms of change (i.e., electric propulsion; fuel cells); incumbent automobile manufacturers and car hiring companies such BMW, Dailmer-Benz, Hertz and Enterprise acquiring, merging and/or developing car-sharing schemes/car clubs; and the growing interest and momentum around autonomous vehicles are just a few examples.

Building on the late John Urry’s legacy, we are interested in critical approaches that explore dominant and emerging systems of (auto)mobility:

  1. How might we understand the continued centrality of the car in the Global North and the substantial growth in car ownership and use in the Global South?
  2. To what extent might new vehicles (electric, hybrid, self-driving, autonomous), materials (light-weight; super-strength) and technologies (automatic cruise-control; lane departure warning; radar; lidar) reproduce or disrupt existing car-dependent cultures?
  3. To what extent are emerging technical-economic, political and social transformations (smart technologies; automation; car-sharing and clubs; on-demand services; (re)-emergence of cycling) challenging, reaffirming or reconstituting (auto)mobile materialities, politics, cultures and identities?

We welcome papers dealing with issues related (but not limited) to:

–        New ways of conceptualising systems of automobility in the global North and global South;

–        Empirical studies of (auto)mobile materialities, politics, cultures and identities in the global North and global South;

–        Empirical studies of virtual, public and non-motorized (e.g., cycling and walking) mobility practices and their associated materialities, politics, cultures and identities in the Global North and Global South;

–        Changing mode(l)s of (auto)mobile access and ownership, together with their (cultural/economic/political/environmental) implications;

–        How these mode(l)s are being operationalised and negotiated in everyday life (e.g., time; space (domestic/commercial); digitally; energy, clothes);

–        Their potential to reproduce, blur, challenge and disrupt existing imaginaries, practices and cultures of (auto)mobility;

Applicants should submit an abstract (~200 words), including a preliminary title, to Brendan Doody (bjd47@cam.ac.uk) and Debbie Hopkins (debbie.hopkins@ouce.ox.ac.uk) no later than Friday 10th February 2017. The convenors will notify all authors of whether their paper can be accommodated in the session by Tuesday 14th February. Final confirmation of the session will be provided by the RGS-IBG conference organisers following the deadline for session proposals on 17th February 2017.

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