Auto-Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design


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Love or despise them, cars are an important and ubiquitous part of nearly all of our lives.

Our relationship with the car has always been intimately connected with design. In this book, Gregory Votolato shows us how and why the automobile has become — since its rise in the late nineteenth century — at once an object of unparalleled popular desire and a hugely problematic emblem of the modern world.

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Over the past century the internal combustion engine, lightweight steam engine and electric motor proved their value to industry and commerce by powering tractors, pickup trucks and delivery vans, while supporting civic order and public service in police vehicles and ambulances. Yet it was the private passenger car that became the most glamorous product of the industrial age, serving psychological, social and economic functions well beyond its utility as a means of transportation. Car introduces the automotive design process, exploring engineering innovation and stagnation, mass-production and aesthetic obsolescence, branded styling and genuine artistry.

Including insights from designers, manufacturers and drivers themselves and tracing the life cycle of the automobile from the drawing board to the scrapyard, this book offers fascinating insights into the ways our attachments to cars may develop in light of environmental pressures, emerging technologies and changing lifestyles.

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The book opens with a philosophical treatment of the relationship between Fordism and mass production and mass consumption, arguing, after a quick tour of French and German critiques of Fordism, that the development of the motor car and its design moved from simply a useful machine of transport to an ideological weapon used to sustain American capitalist production.

Moving on from this bold statement, there follows a straightforward description of the early stages of development of the automobile, showing how cars moved from being almost individualised units into near-conformist identical units, epitomised in Ford's Model T.

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The industry itself, Author: Tom Donnelly. These were the years in which car registrations rose from 40 million to 62 million and when there was one automobile for every three persons. For Seiler this massive expenditure and the consolidation of a new level of automobility can be perceived as an American response to the Cold War struggle between capitalism and communism. Here was a conflict between two irreconcilable political ideologies; the United States was committed to the freedom of the individual and the Soviet Union was based on the centrality of the collective will.

Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design - David Gartman - Google книги

Some Western European countries were also experimenting with socialism. The construction of the interstate system was not exclusively a result of Cold War anxieties, but it was a key catalyst. Driving on these super highways could distinguish Americans from Soviets.

Driving could also be a counterbalance to the managerial culture that had been consolidated by the triumph of American industrial capitalism during the Second World War and the following years. Bureaucracy and bureaucratic communities had come to dominate both business management and political life and the individual, whether a white, blue or pink collar worker, was increasingly required to conform in order to succeed or to survive.

Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design

American consumers were also persuaded into conformist quiescence by a barrage of advertising, even though this differentiated between brands of goods and services. Driving, however, could reaffirm autonomous individuality. It was capable of re-fashioning this key quality of the American personality to fit in with the modern corporate model of organisation. Drivers might be constrained by uniform traffic regulations and find that access to interstate highways was limited, but they were free to express themselves in flexible ways within these porous boundaries.

The peculiar combination of flexibility and coercion for American drivers leads Seiler into some interesting dilemmas connected to citizenry.


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The s may not have been well known as an era of civil rights in the same way as the following decade, but the roots of the equality struggle were visible, perhaps more so for African Americans than for women and ethnic minorities. Seiler recognises the black American pursuit of equal automobility by devoting a chapter to examining the risks, perils and pleasures of African Americans when driving and owning a car.

ufn-web.com/wp-includes/81/traer-un-portable.php As fitting with his cultural approach to history he uses midcentury travel guides published between and as an entry point to demonstrating how racial attitudes and policies shifted. These texts provide insights into the complex and often contradictory language and ways in which black Americans traversed the public space of the road and joined the expanding culture of automobility. Discrimination, violence and intimidation sit side by side with greater access to both vehicles and the roads, especially beyond the confines of the American South. It was impossible to deny access to increasingly standardised spaces like interstate highways and black Americans behind the wheel could approach first-class citizenship, if driving was a requirement for that status.

Women were seemingly not offered this type of first class citizenship because driving was still perceived to be a masculine activity despite the rising numbers of female drivers. In the s anxieties about the feminisation of American culture, the decline of rugged masculine traits and the perceived transformation of American society into a matriarchy suggested that men could and should continue to claim authority and self-expression through their motor vehicles.

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Auto-Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design Auto-Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design
Auto-Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design Auto-Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design
Auto-Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design Auto-Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design
Auto-Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design Auto-Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design
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