Functional, symbolic and societal frames for automobility: implications for sustainability transitions

Sovacool, Benjamin K and Axsen, John (2018) Functional, symbolic and societal frames for automobility: implications for sustainability transitions. Transportation Research Part A Policy and Practice, 118. pp. 730-746. ISSN 0965-8564

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Automobility refers to the continued, self-perpetuating dominance of privately-owned, gasoline-powered vehicles used primarily by single occupants—a system which clearly has broad environmental and societal impacts. Despite increasing societal interest in transitions to more sustainable transportation technologies, there has been little consideration of how such innovations might challenge, maintain or support different aspects of automobility, and what that means for technology deployment, transport policy, and user practices. To bring attention to the complexity and apparent durability of the automobility system, in this paper we develop a conceptual framework that explores automobility through a categorization of frames, or shared cultural meanings. This framework moves beyond the typical focus on private, functional considerations of user choice, financial costs and time use to also consider symbolic and societal frames of automobility that exist among users, non-users, industry, policymakers and other relevant social groups. We illustrate this framework with eight particular frames of automobility that fall into four broad categories: private-functional frames such as (1) cocooning and fortressing and (2) mobile digital offices; private-symbolic frames such as (3) gender identity and (4) social status; societal-functional frames such as (5) environmental stewardship and (6) suburbanization; and societal-symbolic frames such as (7) self-sufficiency and (8) innovative adopters. Finally, we start the process of discussing several transportation innovations in light of these automobility frames, namely electrified, autonomous and shared mobility—examining early evidence for which frames would be challenged or supported by such transitions. We believe that appreciation of the complex and varied frames of automobility can help to enrichen discussion of transitions and policy relating to sustainable transportation.

Item Type: Article
Schools and Departments: University of Sussex Business School > SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit
Research Centres and Groups: climate@sussex
Depositing User: Ellie Leftley
Date Deposited: 09 Oct 2018 13:48
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2019 14:02

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