After the Car

Dennis, Kingsley and Urry, John
Polity Press, Cambridge
9780745644226 (pb)

Order this book?

Cover of book In this book, Dennis and Urry take us on a journey which starts in the 19th century when the car became the system upon which, they argue, contemporary capitalism was built. Throughout the book, the authors adopt a networked approach to analyse the car, rather than regarding it as an iron cage isolated from its surroundings. They consider the complexity paradigm and argue that systems do not only operate in patterns and orders, but can also lead to multiple and unexpected consequences. The writers describe how the car became a path-dependent system, without which socio-economic life would collapse. However, the car does not only emerge from a rational economic choice, but has aesthetic, emotional and sensory meanings associated with driving, and has become a symbol of exploration, individualism and experimentation, and a way of life which provides people with freedom, flexibility and liberation. The writers also discuss the 'dark side' of the car system which leads to road accidents, deaths and injuries. They identify the existing car system as the symbol of American values through which neoliberalism has dominated economic, political and cultural spheres since the end of the 1970s. In addition, the car encourages suburban sprawl and a decline in the quality of public space.

The authors advocate a low carbon economy and society on the basis of three threats to the continuation of the existing car system: climate change, peak oil and a growing world population. Due to rapid climate change, security will become an important issue in the management of food, water and energy shortages. Due to increasing numbers of disasters, 'failed states' will emerge leading to forced migrations, deteriorating public health, poorer living conditions and political unrest. There will be disputes over maritime boundaries between states, with problems concerning the supply of clean water. Due to flooding, desertification and an overall rise in grain costs, the authors argue that food security will be another key issue in world politics. Dennis and Urry suggest an alternative post-car system which should be as effective as the existing car system, entailing new fuel systems, materials, smart vehicles and digitisation. However, it is not known which of these alternative technologies, if any, will succeed due to the complex nature of social processes and the power of disruptive innovation which can lead to uncertainties. The post-car system would create a new city, structured around the concept of 'intelligent urbanism' through digitisation in everyday life.

The adoption of smart technologies in everyday life would also lead to compact cities in which large distances between work, leisure and home will be reduced to achieve a low carbon society in which apartment living and home working will be encouraged. Shopping will be more differentiated, while an awareness of climate change will emerge to monitor carbon footprints, which will also encourage domestic and ethical tourism. At the end of the book, the writers discuss three scenarios: local sustainability, regional war-lordism, and digital networks of control. While local sustainability would be based on self-reliant eco-communities, regional war-lordism signals a dystopian neo-mediaeval age in which nation states would lose their power leading to the rise of piracy and fragmented societies living in 'walled cities'. Digital networks of control would connect the entire human world through new technologies, which has also a potential of an intrusive future threatening civil liberties.

Written in an accessible format, this book is an eye-opening resource for all, without involving complex data and theories. Rather, it discusses future scenarios in a manner that invites the reader to reflect on these issues. In addition, since it offers a rich and recent reading list on climate change, it is also useful for an academic audience. It targets both the rich west and the poor south who it is argued, seek to imitate the west as the result of global domination of neoliberal values. Although the authors do not provide an answer due to complex nature of societies, they make the reader critical and open to any future than any futurologist could have predicted.

Basak Tanulku
University of Lancaster