‘Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre’: Assembling and governing the motorway driver in late 1950s Britain

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In recent years social scientists have paid increasing attention to the complex relations between drivers and cars, drawing upon the writings of Bruno Latour, John Law, Donna Haraway and others to trace the materialities and practices associated with such hybrid or cyborg figures as ‘human-car co(a)gents’ (Michael, 2000: 73), the ‘car-driver’ (Sheller and Urry, 2000: 752; Lupton, 1999), and ‘cason’ (a conflation of car-person) (Michael, 2000: 93; cf. Katz, 1999; Urry, 2000; Böhm et al., this volume).1 As the accounts of these different writers suggest, while the normalized and individualized figure of the driver, and the mass-produced yet invariably customised vehicle, may appear to lie at the centre of these mobile assemblages, it is futile to attempt to understand the movements, politics, semiotics, emotions and ontological formations associated with driving by attempting (endlessly) to separate or purify these hybrid assemblages into constituent parts. In this chapter I argue that while academics can usefully examine the complex processes of hybridization, purification and distribution that are performed in acts of writing, talking about and doing driving, these associations, assemblages and social relations must be seen to extend far beyond the confines of the car (cf. Böhm et al., this volume; Urry, 2000, 2003). As Sheller and Urry (2000: 447) have shown, the diverse ‘scapes’ associated with car travel – including motorways, flyovers and service areas – are intricately related to the ‘machinic hybridization of the car driver’, as are the heterogeneous networks which Urry terms the ‘global fluid’ of automobility (Urry, 2003: 69). Social scientists have paid particular attention to the regularized practices, movements and spaces associated with driving, but in this chapter I examine how the emergence of a new type of driving environment in Britain – with the construction and opening of the M1 motorway in the late 1950s – led a range of cultural commentators and experts to attempt to predict, measure, problematize and effect changes on the movements of drivers and vehicles. New spaces, architectures, technologies, techniques of regulation, and patterns of roadside planting and landscaping were conceived and placed around the movements of drivers and vehicles, becoming inhabited by drivers and incorporated into the spaces of the driving-subject in new ways.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-92
Number of pages18
JournalSociological Review
Issue numberS1
Early online date18 Sept 2006
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2006


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