The miracle of the road: The affective atmospheres of Europe’s roads
Authors: O'Regan, M.
Start date: 29 August 2017
A billion operating cars, with people are on the road around 1.1h a day has spawned an emergent, complex system of roads and motorways no longer designed for people. The private car promised to create a system of freedom and liberation with Simmel speaking about ‘the miracle of the road.” Instead, for many commentators, it created car-dependent cultures with banal infrastructural spaces of car parks, filling stations and repair garages to service motorways that structure and produce unsustainable automobilities. These materialities, or infrastructural spaces, however, have also come to influence different mobilities, based on differing socio-cultural-political readings of infrastructure. Inspired by cultural geography, spatial-cultural theory and affective ontologies in the context of research on mobilities, this largely autoethnographic presentation challenges the current thinking about the organization of movement by exploring the embodied mobility of hitchhiking and the corporeal experiences of being a passenger in trucks, buses, and cars on Europe’s roads and motorways. As a hitchhiker, I hope to tell a story about mobilities of friction and flow which both challenges and reaffirms (auto)mobile materialities and identities and disrupts thinking on car-dependent cultures. I argue that hitchhikers are not passive bodies in cars or motorways ramps and service stations, but a mobility culture with its own politics associated with innovative appropriations of existing materialities, to work below the radar, to modify the abstract rhythms of motorways.