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Automating Mobile Labour

Authors: Debbie Hopkins*, University of Oxford, Anna Davidson, University of Huddersfield, Tim Schwanen, University of Oxford
Topics: Transportation Geography, UAS / UAV
Keywords: Automation, Labour, Gender
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper will examine geographies of automation in the context of the mobile labour(s) of UK truck drivers. As a somewhat homogenous group (male, white, over 45 years old), truck drivers and the practice, spaces and temporalities of truck driving have been constructed around and worked to reinforce traditional gendered ideas of bodily efforts, technological capabilities, skillsets and know-hows. A shortage of freight drivers has led to sustained efforts to diversify the workforce, with the reliance on a cohort of ‘older’ drivers leading some to refer to the ‘ticking time bomb’ of freight and logistics. Such ‘diversification’ has focused primarily on moving women from the ‘back of house’ administrative roles, to ‘front-of-house’ mobile work. In this paper we show how automation and the driver shortage are coevolving with discourses of gendered labour, deskilling/upskilling, and future work. This paper will examine the tensions of short-term recruitment efforts (and ‘diversification’) with longer term visions of automated (freight) futures. It will begin by tracing trajectories of automated features in trucks (e.g. adaptive cruise control), often implemented under the guise of ‘safety’, and the impact this has had on the experiences of truck drivers. We show how diversification and automation are highly connected, with vehicle automation related to conceptualisations of gendered driving capacities and capabilities. Rather than breaking down gender segregation in the trucking sector, automation may well reinforce traditional gendered understandings of (mobile) labour.

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