The social and cultural impact of the car in interwar Britain
This study argues that society's choices between possible technological developments are highly reflective of patterns of political, social, and economic power. Employing insights from recent historical and sociological work on class, gender, consumption and technology the processes by which social relations shaped the design, marketing and uses of the car are explained. In turn, it is argued that the legal and physical infrastructure which developed in the car's wake were extremely expressive of class and gender relations. The interwar years are studied because it was during this period, when the car as a technology was still open to contestation, that the British car culture was defined. This was so because it was during the 1920s and 1930s that car ownership became a reality for millions of middle-class Britons. An analysis of the symbolic, as well as the utilitarian, benefits of ownership is offered and reveals the car's role in the expression of social and gender identity. The extent to which these factors impinged upon the actions of car manufacturers and motor dealers is also related. This perspective and the use of oral evidence has unearthed significant new evidence about the composition of the motoring community. The process through which influential sections of opinion reached a concordance with the car is explained. As it became increasingly useful for them, the professional and commercial middle-classes swung against significant restrictions on car use. Pre-1914 they were often outraged by the danger and inconvenience that were inevitable side effects of rising car ownership. However, once owners themselves they were increasingly attracted to new ideas about road safety which placed more and more emphasis on the education and segregation of other road users. The influential pro-motoring lobby manipulated these developments, a factor which is investigated here for the first time.