"Automobility" Conference, UK, Sept. 9-10, 2002

Automobility, A Conference

Centre for Social Theory & Technology

Keele University, UK, September 8th-10th, 2002
Final call for Abstracts and Interest

Our initial call for abstracts has greatly exceeded our expectations. We have had submissions from throughout Europe, North and South America and Australasia, from people working in areas including history, philosophy, sociology, literature, cultural criticism, film and television studies, defence, gender studies, geography and planning and, of course, transport research. We have confirmed papers from, amongst others, Nigel Thrift, J. Hillis Miller and John Urry. This is our final call for abstracts and indications of interest to attend what promises to be a very exciting event. Note that abstracts and indications of interest must be received by 31 March 2002.


Automobiles, their production, consumption and semiology, have vexed and intrigued theorists, governments, businesses, unions, protestors and activists from their inception in the late 19th century to the present day. As a figure of the contemporary
landscape, the automobile coalesces the dominant concerns and themes of modernity, whether it be the rationalized, automated production line of Henry Ford, or the seemingly insatiable appetite for speed and movement that is its counterpoint. As undoubtedly important as the automobile is, the aim of this conference is to look beyond the car itself to consider the basic conception of automobility that underlies it. To be automobile is to feel simultaneously autonomous and to have, at least the potential for, movement. Yet paradoxically the automobile subject is anything but independent and autonomous. The lines of subjectivization that automobilities traverse draw together complex webs of governance, desire, capital and resistances in order to produce the phenomenon of an automobile self. Even further, automobility is characterised as much by motility as by mobility: the potential for movement and independence seems to be indefinitely deferred as a future promise that perpetually reproduces the desire for automobility.

To explore the idea of automobility further, we invite expressions of interest from across the disciplines, dealing with any of
the questions, issues and difficulties raised by this concept. We would particularly encourage contributions in the following
broad themes, though these should be treated as an open invitation to discussion, rather than a closed statement of focus.

Automobilising desire. Automobility is a form of auto-eroticism. Inscribed in advertising, film and popular culture the car
performs an extension of the body through which flows are produced and cathected. Speed, sound, sex and violence conjoin in the most mundane of circuits, whether adolescent performances on the drag-strip or a weekly trip to the supermarket: always political, always economic, always libidinal and always productive.

Technologies of automobility. Although the car has long been the paradigmatic technology of automobility, others are parasitic
upon its logic. The internet has been characterised as a super-highway on which one can instantly travel anywhere in the global village. Laptops and mobile phones now offer instant access to anyone anywhere through voice, text and image ^ automobility on the move, as it were. The cinema is a space where the spectacle of movement and speed is projected onto the retinal screen of a mass audience. More than infrastructural (though that too) these technologies of automobility are technologies of the self, productive movements of cyborganization that splice and connect, but always in-between.

Ecologies of automobility. It is all but impossible to consider the automobile without recognising the ecological implications
of this mode of mobilisation: pollution, the "out of town" experience, death and injury on the roads, noise, congestion,
obesity... But already this ecology is wider than "the environment": it partakes of the whole spectrum of social relations and forms of subjectivity.

Logics of automobility. What are the logics of automobility? Is it extensive -- power in the hands of the driver? Or do
automobiles open up the intensive, our communicational dependence on forms of logic and perhaps rhetoric? Might the rules of engagement themselves be changing? How much easier, for example to 'overtake' someone else's position rather than go through all that wearisome business of rebuttal and refutation. Who has time for all that?

The human as automotile. Automobility helps surface ideas of embodiment and extension. Narrative, the chorale, there are many ways to transport the body. In other activities such as walking, painting or reading are we not equally auto-mobile? It is easy to dwell on the laptop or the car as paradigmatic of contemporary culture but how much are these actually revealing of the human condition? One moment driving around in our cars, the next moment back in our heads. Or should we be talking here rather about being auto-motile?

Conference Organisation

Indications of interest should be sent to the conference administrator, Tracey Wood (t.wood@mngt.keele.ac.uk), stating whether you intend to contribute a paper, participate as a discussant or just come along to join in. If you would like to submit a paper, please include a short abstract of up to 200 words. Abstracts should include full contact details and be sent by email to the conference administrator by 31 March 2002. Prospective discussants should also include a short (200 words) outline of their interests so that the convenors can match discussants and papers. Other participants are also welcomed and it is hoped that the conference will stimulate much productive dialogue.

The cost of the conference will be 225, postgraduates 125 including meals and two nights accommodation. Places are still
currently available, but in order to avoid disappointment, immediate booking is recommended.

Conference Administrator:

Tracey Wood, Keele University - twood

Conference Convenors:

Steffen Bhm, University of Warwick

Campbell Jones, Keele University

Chris Land, University of Warwick

Rolland Munro, Keele University

Matthew Paterson, Keele University