Automobility at the intersection of discourse and automobility. A study of the accomplishment of rationalities that co-constitute car-dependent mobility in the face of climate change

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    By approaching automobility as a problem of governance, the thesis is imbued with insights from studies of governmentality. I understand the governance of automobility as an ongoing activity, dispersed into all levels of human interaction, and, by extension, I understand power in a Foucauldian way, not as an unambiguously repressive force, but as a productive force, continuously and creatively producing and reproducing its own conditions of possibility. In current studies of governmentality, Rose (1999) has taken inspiration from Foucault, and his work on the powers of freedom represents the backbone of my approach to automobility as a problem of governance. Focusing on how recent forms of governing are connected to a particular way of utilising freedom, itself a set of powers, Rose founds the understanding that runs through the thesis, namely that current forms of governing are co-constituted by certain rationalities of power that are continuously negotiated at all levels, importantly also in discursive interaction at the most vulgar everyday level. Dean (2010) further points out that governing is not only co-constituted by an ongoing process of rationalisation, it becomes clear that this process is inherently moral in people’s accounts for their own actions. Accordingly, I approach the governance of automobility as a process that takes place (also and inevitably) when people make their transportation practices rationally accountable in discursive interaction. However, whereas both Rose and Dean indicate that governing is inextricably co-constituted in mundane, discursive interaction, none of them has carried out studies that make the hows of such interaction available for enquiry and neither has anyone in the narrower field that focuses on automobility as a problem of governance. Consequently, I have found it fruitful to connect my governmentality perspective with ethnomethodology to be able to make enquiries into the yet underexamined governing that unfolds in ordinary people’s discursive interaction. Not only does ethnomethodology understand rationality and moral order in a way that can be seen as compatible with and clarifying the understanding within studies of governmentality, it also provides an unsurpassable starting point for analyses of the hows of this discursive interaction. Garfinkel (1967) sets the agenda for a line of research that focuses on the accomplishment of observably relevant tasks in specific situations, transposing what is otherwise thought of as philosophical and sociological problems into practical ones. Respecifying the classic problems of logic and morality, Coulter (1979; 1991) and Jayyusi (1984; 1991), respectively, not only expound that rationality and morality are closely related phenomena accomplished in discursive interaction, they also indicate how this accomplishment can be made available for enquiry. Since my analysis of governmental rationalities is founded on such thinking, my notion of discourse is thoroughly praxiological. In fact, whereas I direct my study towards the intersection of discourse and governmentality, much ethnomethodological research emphasises the praxiological focus and talks about talk in interaction, rather than discourse or discursive interaction. However, outlining the praxiological orientation within ethnomethodology, Lynch (2000) provides a useful definition of discourse that can constitute the thesis’ conceptual starting point: “So, for example, when described ethnomethodologically, discourse becomes a practically organized phenomenon: a coordinated assembly of what is said, and by whom, in particular circumstances” (Lynch, 2000: 140, emphasis added). Hence, drawing on both studies of governmentality and ethnomethodology, it is the objective of the thesis to contribute to the research of automobility as a problem of governance, adding a widely acknowledged yet underdeveloped perspective to the already existing research, namely a perspective that enquires into how the rationalities of government are accomplished in discursive interaction at the vulgar everyday level. Whereas studies of automobility as a problem of governance have so far attempted to focus on broader, genealogical investigations of the rationalities of government, the thesis reports on an in-depth qualitative study. The qualitative study focuses on the discursive accomplishment of the contested intersection of a municipal transportation strategy aimed at ‘greening’ citizens’ everyday transportation practices and these citizens’ self-administration, and I demonstrate how the intersection is accomplished in situ in citizens’ accounts for their transportation practices. However, I do not want to invoke a persistent but problematic micro/macro dichotomy via this relative positioning against the already existing research, rather I draw on Latour (2002) and talk about the molecular and the molar as merely stretchable areas, intertwined in differently dispersed networks. Rose (1999) also follows Latour and points out that tracking power relations at the molecular level is not to oppose the micro to the macro, since there is, after all, no ontological difference on which to base such a dichotomy: “the ‘macro-actor’ is not different in kind from the ‘microactor’, but is merely one who has a longer and more reliable ‘chain of command’ – that is to say, assembled into longer and more dispersed networks of persons, things and techniques” (5). Lastly, since this expected contribution to automobility research is premised on my attempt to draw on insights from ethnomethodology to make a first stage analysis of orders of rationalities that can secondly be interpreted in terms of governmentality theory, the thesis, by extension, also aims to contribute to the theoretical and methodological development of studies of governmentality.
    Effective start/end date01/08/200918/12/2012