A new spin on the car as cocoon

-By Andrew Dawson, University of Melbourne, Australia

I’ve had a bit of an itchy throat. I was thinking of going to Canberra’s new ‘drive-through respiratory assessment centre’. Since people are required to remain in their cars as they wait to be tested health workers will, so centre manager Ms Stephen-Smith explains, be protected from being exposed to COVID-19. That puts a new spin on the car as cocoon. Here it affords senses of protection to people outside the car, rather than to the driver within. But such dichotomies – inside/outside and the like – are useless. I think about what me and the health centre tester will do when we say goodbye. Maybe while s/he picks up the dreaded virus after going home to hug her/his asymptomatic kids, I’ll contract it filling up at the bowser, pressing the pin number of my credit card into the payment machine and exchanging pleasantries with the coughing cashier. Critical Automobilities punctured the bubbles of multiple myths. The myth of community in driving – as Henri Lefebvre remarked, driving, “enables people….to congregate and mix without meeting, thus constituting a striking example of simultaneity without exchange”. And, conversely, the myth of autonomy in driving – as Jörg Beckmann put it when speaking of ITS, “every new implant seems to dislocate the driver from the problematic ‘traffic community’ and enhances autonomy….however, this autonomy and independence is fictitious. The more human and non-human agents enter the roads, the tighter the actor-network is woven”. Thankfully, my itchy throat disappeared of its own accord. Part of me puts that down to choosing to drive to work rather than taking my usual ride on the crowded public transport system. But, after thinking about the drive-through respiratory assessment centre I am reminded that driving and the everyday life of the driver always and inescapably involve intimate engagement with external-to-the-car materialities and socialities. One of the multiplicity of little things that the Coronavirus pandemic may bury forever is the myth of car as cocoon.


Beckmann, J. (2005) Mobility and Safety. In.: Featherstone, Thrift and Urry, Automobilities, London: Sage, p. 84.

The Lefebvre quote is: Lefebvre, H. (1971). Everyday Life in the Modern World. Rabinovitch, S., Trans., London: Allen Lane. 

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