'Are we there yet?' : exploring aspects of automobility in children's lives
This thesis examines children's experiences of cars, by using personal diaries, photographs, in-depth interviews and surveys, to conduct applied research with children aged 4-11, parents and local transport planners in schools within Buckinghamshire and North London. The thesis challenges existing research on automobility, that is the increasingly central role of cars in societies, for focusing predominantly on adults and ignoring children's experiences. Adopting a postmodern approach, the research explores how cars are not only journey spaces for children, but are also sites for play, relaxation, homework, companionship, technology and the consumption of commodities. Using a postmodern conceptualisation of power, insights into wider familial processes are provided by exploring how cars are sites of conflicting power relations between parents and children. Massey's power geometry of mobility is utilised to consider how the role of cars in children's lives is differentiated by complex interconnections between place, gender, age, ethnicity and social class. Whilst aspirations for car ownership are powerful, many children participate in initiatives to reduce congestion such as 'Safer Routes to School' programmes. However, these initiatives challenge and control children's mobility and fail to include them in decision-making. Whilst a postmodern approach maps the diversity of children's experiences, insights are also drawn from Marxist geographies, indicating how cars are increasingly commodified spaces, and illustrating how the broader economic context influences children's accounts. The work of feminist geographers helps to explore how children's mobility is often the responsibility of, and embedded with the mobility patterns of mothers. Working with local transport planners, although contributing to social change, is criticised as a rather conservative approach to applied geography. Some of the contradictions between postmodernism and applied geography are explored, such as the inability, from a postmodern position of relativism and fragmentation, to speak with authority and offer solutions for policy makers.