Drive-in Church Service in Corona City

-By Ole B. Jensen, Aalborg University

The auto-mobilized flexibility of ‘drive-inn’ or ‘drive-through’ services is well known all over the world. Since the booming 1950’s American car-culture has often been symbolised with representations of drive-in movie theatres, fast-food chains, banks, home depos etc. Cultural practices such as barbecue parties held on parking lots while waiting for sports events named ‘tail gaiting’ is an illustration of how the car mediates and enact various cultural practices (1). For decades McDonalds have been offering drive-in fast food services in Europe, and today it is quite commonplace to drive through a hardware store in the out-of-town shopping areas in Danish cities. In Denmark, we have also had drive-in cinemas, however, not on any large scale and most often as a more exotic American-inspired feature.

In the early days of the corona crisis in the USA, we started seeing reports about drive-inn or drive-through corona tests facilities being set-up (2). Not long hereafter Danish hospitals followed suit with drive-in test facilities (3). Drive-in church services are now the latest twist on the ‘auto-mobilization of corona’ to be reported in Danish media. Today the Danish newspaper Politiken reports about a drive-in church service held yesterday (Palm Sunday) in Valby, a suburban neighbourhood to Copenhagen (4). The newspaper report of the event on social media reads; “Honk-Honk-Honk. Churches all over the country have been closed down for services as long as Denmark is closed down. They have found a solution to this in Valby. Drive-in church service. You stay in your car while you listen to the preaching, and you can sing along on the psalms” (my translation).

As my last blog entry here titled ‘Driving through Corona City’ (4) this re-opens reflections on the discussion of the so-called ‘cocooning’ and the car. As I stated there, I am critical of the ‘iron cage’ description of the car. Rather, I see the car as filtering and mediating the ‘I-world’ relation. In thinking about ‘driving through corona city’, I did conclude that there is an element of cocooning related to the car. The recent case of Danish drive-in church services seems to support this. What was taking place in Valby, Copenhagen yesterday was in some respect a case of utilizing the ‘car as shield’ against the real and imagined corona virus threat by your neighbouring worshipper. As the wicker of the local church lamented the lack of co-present worshipping, he realized that the solution was exactly the car as it shielded off the members of the congregation sufficiently to be able to do service. From the newspaper account we learn that it was only permitted to have the left-side car window open, and that cars had to be parked with sufficient safe distance between them (2 meters). There were, however, accounts of small exceptions as for instance a woman waving her hands up though the sun-roof of the car, or the two girls watching the service with an open backdoor of the car (hatchback model that is).

How to make sense of all this in the light of critical Automobility analysis? Obviously, this is yet another case of car-based stratification and even exclusion. How can you attend drive-in church service if you do not have access to a car? Thus, this dimension inscribe itself into the long line of other forms of ‘exclusion by the car’ (as the drive-in corona test facilities also suggest). However, here I want to return to my interest in the ‘filtering vs cocooning’ discussion. At first glance, the practice of organizing a drive-in church service seems to suggest that, yes the car is a cocoon. This is precisely why the service is doable without violating the corona security enforcement-rules. However, if you start looking more closely, this service would not make sense if the car truly were a cocoon let alone an ‘iron cage’. The visual engagement with the wicker and the band mediated via a large TV screen and AV audio systems would not make sense if service could not be seen or heard. The waiving of hands out of car windows, and the honking of horns are clear elements of an interactional reciprocity and two-way communication. Something that is impossible to do if you are ‘sealed off’ and isolated from the world. The news reporter also notices that the wicker shouts out ‘can we dance a bit?’ and the car-drivers start honking the horns and rocking the cars from side to side. Creating a technologically mediated and admittedly slightly more ‘slow dance’ than you would normally see. The cars turned into movable envelopes that register body-movement even with some friction compared to the effortless dance that would have been the situation had the congregation met at its ordinary Sunday church.

This small story provoked my sociological imagination as so much else have done in these strange corona times. However, it is also testament to why it is important that a critical Automobility analysis take point of departure in the car as a filtering and mediating device, rather as a cocooning device. The case here seem exotic perhaps but it is just another piece to the puzzle of understanding how we inhabit the world through technology of the car.

References

Thoughts on the Emotions of Change

-by Matthias Allinger, Institute for Advanced Studies & Critical Automobility Studies Lab, Vienna

While the Coronavirus animates us to pay attention to the topic of biopolitics (may it be following Foucault or Agamben), I want to focus on another perspective: The politics of emotions. Following the premises of Affective Studies, I perceive emotions and rationality not as opposites, but as constitutive for another (Baier et al. 2014: 14). Intellectualization and Rationalization in psychology remind us of this connectedness just as much as political actors fostering and instrumentalizing emotions for their agendas. In context of the current situation, I’ve been thinking quite a lot about Engin F. Isin’s Neurotic Citizen lately, as looking back to the last years, we do indeed see ourselves confronted with the prevalence of severe, anxiety-inducing societal challenges: Banking crisis, financial crisis, refugee crisis, ecological crisis, corona crisis – one might only wonder which crisis comes next, instead of realistically imagining this age of crisis coming to a foreseeable end.

Anxieties played a huge role in all of these crises, related not only to physical health, but also regarding mental well-being, individual and societal prosperity, crime, culture, as well as concerning the agency to ‘take control’ and the possibilities to ‘make a change’. The concrete measures taken – both on individual and on societal levels – may be diverse, contradictory or sometimes even appear completely meaningless, but they all aim for (sustaining or achieving) some sort of normality, stability, and safety – animated by a (felt) loss of control and the envisioned impending doom to come. And in light of these challenges, it’s often times old or new authorities who are hailed to rescue the darkened world.

Interestingly enough, Isin published his Neurotic Citizen already way back in 2004. He anticipated the emergence of a new form of governance: neuroliberalism, which ‘addresses an anxious and affective subject whose freedom is released in response to insecurities it faces within the requirements of tranquil, serene and secure species-bodies’ (Isin 2004: 232). This subject is the Neurotic Citizen, ‘who governs itself through responses to anxieties and uncertainties’ (Isin 2004: 223). The most striking assessment of Isin is the following normalization of anxiety within societies, as ‘the neurotic subject is one whose anxieties and insecurities are objects of government not in order to cure or eliminate such states but to manage them’ (Isin 2004: 225). And while these anxieties must not be ignored, we must at the same time be wary that anxieties and our preparations for any disasters to come do not only shape our present, but also our imaginable futures (Neocleous: 195).

‘So, what’s the point?’, you might rightfully ask. The point is that when we conceive every crisis as an opportunity, we must take into account that emotions play a non-negligible part in envisioning and seizing these opportunities. We all rely on our imaginative potential to create change and if we want to have a meaningful impact, we are in dire need to reach out and capture the collective imagination that indeed, another world is possible. Of course, this will pose new potential risks to be taken, but also new opportunities to be had – maybe even a world in which we can strive for collectively freeing ourselves from some of our anxieties instead of developing the resilience to endure them.

References

Baier, Angelika; Binswanger, Christa; Häberlein, Jana; Nay, Yv Eveline; Zimmermann, Andrea (2014): Affekt und Geschlecht: Eine Einleitung in Affekt-Theorien aus einer feministischen, queeren und post/kolonialen Perspektive. In: Baier et al. (Hg.): Affekt und Geschlecht. Eine einführende Anthropologie. Wien: Zaglossus, p. 11-29, p. 42-54.

Isin, Engin F. (2004): The Neurotic Citizen. In: Citizenship Studies. Vol. 8(3), p. 217-235.

Neocleous, Mark (2012): „Don’t Be Scared, Be Prepared“: Trauma-Anxiety-Resilience. In: Alternatives: Global, Local, Political. Vol. 37(3), p. 188-198.

Mobility Justice in Times of the Corona-Crisis

– By Mathias Krams, University of Vienna, Austria

Some of the preceding blog posts have already dealt with the comeback of the private car in times of Corona: Mystified as a safe haven, it is supposed to glide through the dystopian, Corona-contaminated outside world and reach its destination virus-free thanks to the lifting of parking restrictions.

But from the perspective of mobility justice, a similar question arises here as in pre-corona times: Who can actually claim the privilege of automotive, corona-free mobility? 42% of Viennese households have no car at all. Nevertheless, 67% of Vienna’s traffic areas are occupied by cars. However, only 25% of journeys are made by car with an average occupancy rate of 1.15 persons. In terms of space consumption, the car is therefore the most inefficient means of transport in Vienna. This unequal distribution of space is particularly noticeable in times of the Corona-crisis.

When I want to leave my apartment to get some fresh air, catch a bit of sunlight and at the same time avoid the noise of traffic, my choice is limited to very few places that are reachable by foot. Inevitably, I am immersed in a bustle of joggers, cyclists and walkers. Even though everyone tries hard to keep their distance, the requirement of one metre distance is hardly feasible with so little space for non-motorized mobility. For society as a whole – beyond privileged car drivers – the dominance of automotive mobility is thus not a protection against the virus, but rather increases the risk of infection.

The Greens are currently demonstrating what Mobility Justice practically means in times of the Corona crisis: To ensure that the required minimum distance can be maintained, Vienna’s Deputy Mayor Hebein demanded last Sunday that selected roads will be closed to cars and opened to pedestrians. As expected, the car-friendly SPÖ opposes the proposal and tries to play off parks against corona-free pedestrian mobility. But for safe mobility and a good life for all, even in times of Corona, both are needed: access to green spaces and the fair distribution of public space for everyday mobility with the lowest possible risk of infection. This step is only possible if the privileges of the car are reduced, not extended.

Resisting immobility or how valuable mobility really is

-by Catarina Sales Oliveira, University of Beira Interior, Portugal 

In this last weekend the prime minister António Costa, has forbidden weekend dislocations in Portugal. Until now there was no surveillance over people dislocations. But with the Easter as a mean to avoid the typical weekend or vacation mobility of this time of year.

Since the emergency state declaration that people could leave home just for a group of restricted reasons, like buying essential goods, provide support for vulnerable persons, walk dogs or exercise for a short period.

But it is notorious – visible not only social communication the news and stories of but also at short glance in my own village, that people are tending to use this reasons in an “extended” way: newspapers say that never dogs were so walked, the police had to do a stop operation yesterday in Lisbon’ south exit as it was highly congested in the sunny afternoon, and the exits of the elderly are getting a major problem (Pinto & Pimenta 2020).

No doubt there are a panoply of reasons for this: fear of isolation in the case of the elderly and people that are alone at home; resistance to authority, lack of confidence in the institutions (Torcal 2014), not forgetting media manipulation effects (Hanjoo 2009). But for sure one of the reasons is also the difficulty in being confined for so long.  And it is this reason that is provoking my mobilities oriented mind: after decades of living in a hypermobile society and deeply used to it’s glamour (Cohen & Gössling, 2015) how hard it can be to adapt to this new forced lifestyle?

This situation has created a perfect social laboratory for mobility: with people and countries being forced to stay still, we can experimentally see the reactions, resistances, strategies to adapt to immobility and eventually measure the real importance of mobility for current society.

References:

Cohen, S.A. & Gössling, S. (2015). A darker side of hypermobility. Environment and Planning A, 47, 1661-1679

Hanjoon Michael Jung (2009) Information Manipulation Through the Media, Journal of Media Economics, 22:4, 188-210, DOI: 10.1080/08997760903375886

Pinto, Mariana  C. and Pimenta, Paulo 2020 “Não quero morrer da doença, mas também não quero morrer de solidão”, Público online (30 march 2020 6.50) retrived from https://www.publico.pt/2020/03/30/local/reportagem/nao-quero-morrer-doenca-tambem-nao-quero-morrer-solidao-1909946

Torcal, Mariano (2014). The decline of political trust in Spain and Portugal: economic performance or political responsiveness?. American Behavioral Scientist, 58(12), 1542-1567.

From a climate-killer to a life-saver?

-by Martin Schmidt, City of Graz Holding, Head of public transport and traffic development

It’s all in our hands”, does Silke Zimmer-Merkle finish her post (https://cas.ihs.ac.at/re-a-return-of-the-car-or-staythefuckathome/). But who exactly is the ‘we’?  Is it people from the academia, like many of the authors who have posted here? Or is it the hundred thousands of workers who either have to stay home now with a reduced income or even have become unemployed because of this crisis and all of them asking right now what the future will be like for them and their families? How do politicians react to their fears and how will they try to restart the economy and the regain the confidence of the people? Maybe they will create a stimulus-package with tax-free car sales in order to get the car industry and their hundred thousand workers running again? Maybe they will proclaim free parking in order to save the shops in the city-centers?

I assume, all or most of you will acknowledge that these are short-sighted measures. But who knows what the decisions will be and who will be able to guide the politicians into a sustainable future? As others have posted before, the perception of the individual car suddenly has changed: from a climate-killer to a life-saver! Since I am not only a concerned citizen but also working at a public transport operator, this will be a huge challenge for us. Even when we will get back to a ‘normal’ schedule after the crisis, will our customers also come back? Will we suddenly lack the funding for all the projects we have been working on to further improve our public transport system because it will be shifted to ‘saving the economy’? I know, a lot more questions than answers. But it is the first crisis of that enormous dimension in our life-time and may it also be the last!

Dangerous cars and cycling in the suburbs

-By Karol Kurnicki, WIRL-COFUND Fellow, Warwick University, UK

In today’s situation, when every journey on public transport poses a risk to you and others, it seems that cars became one of the most reasonable options for travel. There are cities, like London, which suspend their restrictions on automobility, such as congestion zone and ultra-low emission zone. Or cities like Warsaw and Glasgow, where parking charges have been temporarily suspended. The reason for these measures is to help those people who really need to get somewhere quicker and easier, like “key workers” or those visiting their family members that require help. But these examples also reveal that means of mobility can be prioritised according to their social usefulness, at the same time revealing the potential for changes after we can all get back safely to our trains and buses. Cars will stay with us as in one form or another as very capable and flexible vehicles, largely irreplaceable for certain task. Now is the time, however, to realise that it is a matter of choice and planning, and to imagine making our daily trips differently.

In the area where I currently live – cradle of UK’s motorisation – car is still the king. On my way to the campus or nearest supermarket, I need to pass through two large, multi-lane roundabouts, which combined have only one safe pedestrian crossing. The area is crisscrossed by highways connecting even bigger highways, leading do sprawled suburban neighbourhoods. The suburbs we know from American movies and TV series, where teenagers spend their time after school cycling about, exploring and having exciting adventures is not the reality around here.

In recent days, as road traffic visibly decreased because of social distancing measures the bike rides that I occasionally take to go to the supermarket became much more dangerous. Fewer cars means that speeding is common. I cannot ride in the flow of traffic anymore and taking my space in the middle of the lane does not discourage those who want to overtake at high speeds. Moreover, closed campus also means fewer cyclist in the area, so drivers expect bikes on the roads even less than in usual. Result? For me, one near-miss at the roundabout and at least a few times when I was convinced that I am going to be hit by a car approaching fast from behind. This is not something I experienced commuting on the same roads in the months before.

This makes me think about how many changes have to be made in this area to overcome the domination of cars. And how easy they are actually to make, especially in those circumstances. People are told to avoid others, but also to do some daily exercise. They also have more time to get groceries and do things at a slower pace than even two weeks ago. They are often confined to the area close to their houses.

As I write these words, the UK government is introducing stricter social distancing measures – even less reasons to be on the road. Being inside a car does not automatically provide us with protection from the virus and there are not many places where you would could or need to drive anyway. Cycling is in especially good position to replace car travel and has additional advantage of being clean and cheap. But the decision has to be made to make it safe and convenient. For safety – create separate lanes on the road. Traffic is low and this will not cause much congestion or disrupt public transport. Convenient – remove obstacles and bottlenecks, provide clear signs to shops and pharmacies, install new bike parking spaces. Organising bike-through shopping also should not be that difficult for supermarkets looking for solutions in those extraordinary times.

As a healthy white male, I can make my way on my bike even against dangerous, inconsiderate, speeding drivers. But many other people need to be convinced that cycling is a viable option and can remain one even after the emergency policies. This is the time to implement changes, mainstream cycling and walking and find limits for car use.

The bike as iron-cage

-By Ondřej Mulíček, Masaryk University, Czech Republic

It is ten past seven in the morning in Brno, Czech Republic. As in other European cities, there are measures in place to control the outbreak of COVID-19. I am riding my bike to my office at the faculty – as usual, I would say. Still, I can see a very subtle shift in the way of feeling and thinking the journey (and the compulsory face-mask is not the reason).
Firstly, I am more sensitive to the street traffic. However, my attention is not focused on the cars passing by. I watch other cyclists and pedestrians thoroughly as their level of “cocooning” is as low as mine. They represent potential risk to me, I represent potential risk to them. We play a ‘spatial distantiacion’ ballet (Jensen, 2010) when we meet at the traffic lights, when we pass by on the narrow bike path. We all try to keep some reasonable distance. It seems to me there is developing a kind of spatial ethics, an emerging set of rules applicable exclusively to the moving entities unprotected by the car body.
Secondly, in somewhat of a contradiction to what was written above, I perceive my bike as an “iron cage” (Urry, 2004) isolating me from the others. It is the speed of my movement that encapsulates me and builds a virtual barrier between me and the passers-by. The higher the speed, the shorter the time I am exposed to possible contact, risk and uncertainty. The speed of the bike, however low, is sufficient to evoke the illusion of being cut off from the surrounding world.
It is as if some features of car and automobility were projected onto other modes of movement.  I always perceived ‘safe distance’ and ‘cocoon-like encapsulating’ as the attributes of car mobility. Nowadays, I meet them every day in my head when biking.

Jensen, O. B. (2010): Negotiation in Motion: Unpacking a Geography of Mobility. Space and Culture  13(4), 389–402.

Urry, J. (2004): The ‘System’ of Automobility. Theory, Culture & Society 21(4/5), 25–39.

Return of the private car, act 2

-By Kalle Toiskallio, Aalto University,  Finland

This is just a short note on how public traffic provision in pandemic times can lead to contradictions. As everywhere in Europe the public rule is to avoid participating in, let alone organise public gatherings. Another, decades old public message is to use public transport in urban commuting instead of the private car. In the Helsinki region a very strong transit actor, the Helsinki Region Transport (HRT, owned by 22 municipalities of the Helsinki region), has a monopoly over planning all public transit by public or private providers. It has also successfully promoted public  transport for a long time. Now HRT has restricted the frequency of metro line services as there are fewer passengers, but also because of not having enough metro train drivers. However, and this is my point here, although being a public organisation, HRT seems to be unable to ask people to minimise their use of public transport during corona times. Their only advise to people is to cough correctly. For individuals in social media discussions, however, it seems to be a basic health argument not to use public transit these days at all if possible. In practice this is also much easier now than usual, as main roads and public parking facilities are much less crowded during these days. Even the 10-20c lower than usual gas price nicely supports this “healthy behaviour” of individuals…

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