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The Enthusiast

Authors: James Miller*, Hampshire College
Topics: Cultural Geography, Behavioral Geography, Social Geography
Keywords: Car culture, love of cars, objectural relations, driving agency
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

One highly concentrated version of driver subjectivity is the enthusiast. Such people are a small minority of all drivers, but their lives are steeped in car culture. The enthusiast dwells in an automotive imaginary, anchored in quite specific activities and events: following the automotive press, being a member of a car club, attending and participating in auto shows, concours and races and visiting automobile museums. Plus, of course, buying, maintaining and driving a classic car.

The enthusiast sensibility is both a key feature and consequence of car culture. There are today, however, contradictory forces acting on the enthusiast subjectivity. On the one hand, driver assistance technology and the prospect of autonomous vehicles threaten the very agency of driving. Electric power has none of the rough, romantic charm of the internal combustion engine. Young people lack interest. On the other, the collector car market is booming, there are numerous autocentric TV shows and websites and the Porsche Club of America (PCA) alone boasts a primary membership of 80,000 with an annual income of $10 million (2017). There are at least a dozen must-see automobile museums in the US.

Drawing on my work on the mediatization of automobility, I will conceptually map the rise and (probably imminent) fall of the American enthusiast, noting especially its complex class dimensions and its prosthetic, aesthetic and highly gendered connections to the material automobile over time.

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