Automobility is looking at our public mobile lives and the way we move, live and do things arguing that today’s world is organized by and for the car, its driver and owner. It studies how we are coerced, restricted, injured and sometimes killed on our roads by regulation that privileges the car over humans. Therefore, the distribution of power between drivers, passengers, bicyclists, pedestrians and other users of public space not the car itself, that is the focus of our kind of work – which only got under way towards the end of the last century. The emergence of such studies is part of wider changes in the social sciences that involved crossing traditional boundaries between sociology, geography, political science and philosophy. Thus we talk about the car and driver becoming a unit, and their use of space is explored to see how it affects interactions between people, the social standing of those involved as well as those who are less privileged. It is examined to throw light on how these interactions between object and its user shape social networks. And finally society itself is examined in the light of studies of the social and political dimensions of automotive technology and how they in turn are shaped by the distribution of power and knowledge. The study of the ‘car world’ is thus distinct from the study of other kinds of travel and from examination of the car as a technology.
In the language of academia: ‘Automobility,’ an enduring hegemonic sociotechnical order, not the automobile, is the focus of the Critical Automobility Studies Lab. It was in the last decades of the twentieth century that automobility became an object of serious and sustained analysis. Automobility studies lies at the confluence of several ‘turns’ in the social sciences that have crossed the traditional disciplinary boundaries of sociology, geography, political science and philosophy. The ‘spatial turn’ conceptualized space in terms of social connections and power; the ‘mobilities turn’ conceptualized the social in terms of movement and, conversely, movement in terms of the social. These two turns were complemented by a ‘social turn’ in technology studies, which emphasized the socially constructed and politicized nature of technology and conceptualized technoscience as a power/knowledge apparatus. SCOT (Social Construction of Technology) and STS (Science, Technology and Society) offered new ways to look at the co-production of technology and society. Inspired by these ‘turns,’ but demarcating the territory of analysis—automobility—from the more general field of mobility studies, as well as from technology focused conceptions of automobility and the automobile, the Critical Automobility Studies Lab has been set up as a resource center and collaborative forum for researchers, activists and others with a shared interest in understanding what automobility is, and how we might move to a post-automobility future.