Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2001


Dale Southerton, Elizabeth Shove, Alan Warde and Rosemary Deem (2001) 'The Social Worlds of Caravaning: Objects, Scripts and Practices'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 6, no. 2, <>

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Received: 2001/1/12      Accepted: 2001/7/10      Published: 2001/8/31


This paper is about the part which objects play in scripting the practices and strategies of their users. Goffman uses the concept of script to make sense of the conventional ordering of social interaction and the definition and maintenance of social worlds. As adopted by Latour (1992), Akrich (1992)and others, the term describes the ways in which devices and non-human actors configure their users. Drawing upon a study of caravaning and caravaners, we link these interpretations together through the mediating concept of practice. We argue that the practice of caravaning involves the resolution of common dilemmas, related to the material characteristics of the activity, and that the manner of their resolution, which involves the differential use of apparently similar objects and devices, underpins the social ordering of caravaning communities. In this case, as in others, non- human actors do not simply script, they also set the stage for social differentiation. Equally, caravans and caravan sites are much more than props strategically deployed in the course of social interaction. Like other objects, they are also implicated in the constitution and definition of the challenges around which social distinctions revolve.

Caravans; Consumption; Differentiation; Objects; Practices; Scripts


In the UK, more than 60 million holiday nights are spent in caravans each year, making it the most popular form of holiday accommodation after staying with friends and relatives. These nights are spent in something like 520,000 touring and 330,000 static caravans (National Caravan Council 1995).[1] To non-caravaners, planners and environmentalists, caravaners represent a uniformly problematic population crawling along country lanes or despoiling areas of outstanding natural beauty with row after row of apparently identical boxes. It is true that from the outside, one site looks much like another. Analysis of manufacturers' brochures also confirms that caravan interiors are highly standardised. Despite this material homogeneity, the caravaning community is marked by finely tuned and quite precisely calibrated forms of differentiation. The following selection of quotations, taken from a short study conducted in the North West of England, gives a sense of the distinctions and divisions which caravaners draw.

Reflecting on his own preferences, Peter, a touring caravaner, explained that he and his wife "want a quiet site [where] people keep themselves to themselves, without kids that are allowed to run riot". He contrasted this environment with what he termed "Butlins type" sites which are full of "drunks ... [who] ... walk home at all hours". By contrast, Lydia and Angus positively revelled in the sociability found at a caravaners 'meet', likening the experience to "the old terraced houses community spirit" (Lydia). Far from keeping themselves to themselves, Angus was delighted to observe that "everyone's door is always open". Despite inhabiting virtually identical physical environments, caravaning neighbours were variously bent on the contrasting goals of "getting back to nature" (William) or of single-mindedly creating a "home from home" (Sheila). Adventuring types, like William, harboured aspirations to be "responsible New Age Travellers". Such intentions were a world apart from those of committed conventionalists like David and Sheila, who were anxious to "know what you're getting" and who were evidently comforted by the ready reproduction of normal domesticity within their miniature home from home. Still others were enthused by the enterprise itself, valuing images of themselves as "real caravaners" (Lydia) and demonising those who failed to appreciate what that involved.

The world of caravaning is clearly more complicated than a focus on the central object of use would suggest. Narratives of what it meant to be a caravaner were clearly referential, those interviewed described their way of doing caravaning in relation to their interpretations of what other caravaners did. Such mechanisms of differentiation are captured in Becker's (1984) concept of 'social worlds'. Concerned with the collective and normative form of social practice, Becker describes how social worlds frame, order and provide meaning to the competent practices that generate senses of belonging within social groups. Though talking of art lovers rather caravaners, Becker suggests that a social world is a 'social organization [that] consists of the special case in which the same people act together to produce a variety of different events in a recurring way' (Becker, 1984: 368-9). In Becker's account, practices come to be defined as competent through the mechanisms of reputation and convention.

Homing in on the detail of these processes, Goffman documents the ways in which competent practices are framed and scripted such that 'What the individual does in serious life, he does in relationship to cultural standards established for the doing and for the social role that is built up out of such doings' (Goffman, 1974). How caravaning is done therefore provides an indication of caravaners' 'alignment to others present' (Goffman, 1974). It is through the manner of doing caravaning that competencies are demonstrated, reputations established and social worlds reproduced. The caravaners' accounts offered above suggest that there are distinct reputational communities within the caravaning fraternity: the script of "Butlins" style caravaning is for instance, clearly distinguished from that associated with "getting back to nature", or with the reproduction of quiet domesticity.

In this paper we are interested not just in the making of social worlds but in the part which the caravan plays in their constitution. Is it merely the stage or setting against which alternative styles of caravaning are played out? Is it an innocent prop selectively used in the day to day reproduction of the different social orders of caravaning? How does it figure, if at all, in the distinctions which caravaners draw between each other? If we turned to the literature on consumption and material culture, and if caravans were cars, we would do well to take note of the potential for social differentiation based on the subtleties of style, make and model. Alternatively, we might scrutinise the caravan for signs of customisation. What adaptations do caravaners make to otherwise mass produced commodities and how do these serve to differentiate one caravaner from another?

While there are distinctive types of caravan, the airstream is a classic example,[2] a walk around any caravan site confirms an initial impression of uniformity. Regardless of age, make or model they all look much the same. Though static caravaners sometimes add little fences or scatter plant pots around their plot, it is rare to observe any significant modification to the object itself. In short it is difficult to explain differences between caravaners in terms of differences between caravans.

Given the extent of differentiation, it is odd that the symbolic significance of the caravan is so blankly neutral. Observed differences of style and practice are doubly puzzling for we might also expect ways of doing caravaning to be partly scripted, in a Latourean sense, by the device itself. In so far as the caravan is standardised so are the ways of life which it makes possible. Following Latour we might suspect that the caravan, like the dangling hotel key fob or the sleeping policeman (Latour, 1992), limits and enables caravaners' practices in certain rather powerful ways. Just as the size of the key fob prevents the hotel customer making off with it by mistake, and just as the sleeping policeman silently but effectively slows the traffic, so caravans act on their inhabitants. Only so much can be done in the few square feet available, the cooker makes possible only some kinds of catering, and the shower and toilet arrangements have a narrative of their own. While caravans inscribe certain ways of life, they do not appear to have a strongly determining role. Somehow or another, these identical environments are subject to a range of varied but nonetheless structured forms of interpretive and practical flexibility.

Surprised by the vigor with which caravaners marked themselves off both socially and culturally from their fellow travelers, and intrigued by the fact that such a uniformly standardized object could be the vehicle for such a variety of meanings and practices, we undertook some preliminary 'field' work. Our study, carried out in the summer of 1996, involved a small number of unstructured interviews with caravaners (contacted through impromptu visits to sites, followed by snowballing), site owners and caravan manufacturers.[3] We also examined caravan manufacturers' brochures and other caravaning literature, observed various caravan sites and visited a couple of caravan showrooms. We make no claims for the empirical generalisability of this work but use it to inform discussion the ways in which objects (in this case, caravans) are implicated in the delineation of social boundaries. Despite focusing on the caravan, this paper is not designed as a contribution to the literature on tourism or leisure (Deem 1996a; Deem 1996b; Kinnaird and Hall 1994; Krippendorf 1987; Urry 1990). Its focus is, instead, upon the relationship between material objects and the practices and habits of those who use them.

We therefore begin by describing the component parts of caravaning, that is the caravan and the site, before moving on to consider the sorts of challenges which caravaning represents. We reflect further on the tensions associated with being away from home, of inhabiting a caravan, and of sharing space with strangers. Returning to the ways in which caravaners classify each other, we situate their distinctions in terms of an analysis of common dilemmas and associated repertoires of practice. On the basis of this discussion we suggest that caravans and sites do script the experience and practice of caravaning but not along the lines that either Goffman or Latour might lead us to expect.

The Caravan and the Caravan Site

While caravans are not literally identical, they are certainly alike in interior design and appearance and in the sorts of facilities they provide. As we have already observed, the experience of caravaning was not significantly defined and constituted by the caravan as a stand-alone object in its own right. The combination of the caravan and site was, however, rather more important. To make sense of caravaners' experiences, we need to see the caravan in context, and appreciate the characteristics of the hybrid entity of van and site combined.

For tourers, it was the combination of site and caravan which defined the character of the holiday, for instance, as a rural experience, a sea-side trip, a return to nature or a convenient way of combining luxury and economy. The site was evidently more than a place to park and the knowledgeable selection of an appropriate site was a particularly crucial aspect of caravaning practice. Specialist guide books provide important clues as to what to expect and it was is here, rather than in the analysis of caravan manufacturers' catalogues, that the language of differentiation was really developed. Since sites and the nature of caravaners' commitment to them are central discriminating factors, the ways in which they are owned, developed and managed appeared to be all- important. Interviews with local site owners promised to provide insights into the commercial structuring of opportunities and the pressures and priorities determining the range of experiences on offer.

At its most basic, all that distinguishes a site from the field next door is the label on the gate. Equipped with a tap, a toilet and an appropriate licence, land owners sell little more than the permission to pitch and park. At the other end of the scale, sites offer almost all that would be expected of a five star hotel. These highly-managed environments included bars, swimming pools, shops, showers, toilets, laundries, mains electricity, piped water and sewerage services, street lighting and more.

In making practical decisions about the number of wash basins to provide, what to sell in site shops and whether to have a bar, site owners structure the caravaning environment. The layout of roads and the positioning of washing facilities, electric hook-up points and street lighting, further determine the distribution of caravans and caravaners and hence the allocation of private and shared space. Owners' decisions about design and investment related to the status of the site either as a seasonal side-line (as it was for farmers) or as a primary business (as it was for a number of seaside entrepreneurs). Not surprisingly, these two commercial environments generated different sorts of provision.

What sites had to offer also related to their generic positioning - as rural, commercial, basic, luxury etc. - and to the even more specific qualities of exact location. While these features together shaped the smallest details of the site itself, such qualities were curiously missing from caravaners' descriptions of their holiday experience. The site was a constitutive part of the enterprise, but for the caravaners with whom we spoke, it was the genre not the detail which counted.

There are two possible explanations for why caravaners took such little note of the finer points of site layout (despite the fact that these features defined the landscape and the hardware of their experience). The first is that the site was so taken-for- granted that it was not mentioned at all. For those owning or renting a static caravan, the site was barely a separate item; in effect it formed part of the totalised context of caravaning. Another possibility is that the site was merely the backdrop for practices that define the purpose of caravaning in the first place. Absorbed by their own sense of self sufficiency, a number of touring caravaners discounted the role of site and site owner, valuing the fact that this was a feature they could vary at will.

In other words, the caravan-site complex was important not for the detailed scenarios which it made possible (for example, it did not seem to matter precisely how many showers there were, or exactly how close the plots were laid out), but for the type of experience on offer. At this level, types of site did figure in caravaners' narratives of difference. While one would expect to encounter different modes of caravaning on different types of site, there was still plenty of flexibility. Alternative caravaning styles were frequently played out and reproduced on the same sites.

Having failed to find the ingredients of social differentiation either in the caravan itself or in the caravan-site complex we were obliged to think again about the social and material order of caravaning. We returned to caravaners' analyses of each other and of their own caravaning experience to see how they described the process. This highlighted a number of recurrent themes.

Generic Constraint and Differential Practice

When asked about the experience of caravaning, our respondents consistently referred to themes of freedom, privacy, familiarity and daily routine. These themes are partly entailed by the material circumstances of caravaning but they also provide a vocabulary with which to define the symbolic significance of the practices involved and to classify participants. If, as Bourdieu (1984) suggests, classification classifies the classifiers, reflection on these pivotal themes promises to give some insight into the structuring and scripting of caravaners' social worlds.

Couched in terms of freedom, privacy and routine, participants' descriptions of the attractions and trials of caravaning highlighted three common dilemmas. These were: the desirable balance between the perpetuation of daily routines and the imperative to change at least some of these upon entry into a potentially liminal zone of holiday-making; the predictable management of feelings of insecurity or anxiety which arise from being in temporary and unfamiliar surroundings; and securing a proper balance of privacy from, or sociability with, other people on a site. These dilemmas were common to all forms of caravaning for they are a consequence of being away from 'home', of engaging in recreational activity which requires suspension of at least some routines, and of sharing spaces with strangers. We consider feature each in turn.

Routine and Novelty

The extent to which holiday-making represents a break from the routines and locations of everyday life and work varies. Much of the literature on tourism indicates the importance of temporary accommodation, of respite from the conditions of everyday life and work, and the possibility of viewing different sights (Krippendorf 1987; Urry 1990; Kinnaird et al. 1994). It is also recognised that tourism and everyday life may not be as strongly differentiated as such definitions suggest (Lash and Urry 1994). The caravaners we interviewed differed with respect to their desire to preserve familiar routines or cast themselves into liminal, out-of-the ordinary circumstances (Shields 1991).

Even so, caravaning makes possible, and probably encourages, greater continuity with everyday routine than many other kinds of holiday-making. While tourers are literally mobile, those which are mechanically static or located on a single site for a season offer a different type of transformation. In the case of statics, the caravan constitutes a second home, enabling the establishment of new domestic habits which, while not necessarily replicating those of 'normal' everyday life, may keep intact or reinforce certain kinds of activity and relationships. For example, the allocation of domestic tasks in caravans appears to have strong parallels with year-round habits (Hochschild 1989; Wheelock 1990). Caravan-work was typically routinised and regular, not least because of the problems posed by shortage of space and people living in close proximity to each other. However, caravans were also perceived as being easier to manage than a real house. For example, Caroline, a static caravaner, commented that it is "easy to clean a static [caravan], surfaces are easy to wipe down, beds easy to make, bathroom easy to clean". The miniaturisation of the home may be attractive precisely because it reduces the scale of domestic work. At the same time, caravaning imposes distinctive demands of its own. Site observations suggest that collecting water, emptying chemical toilets, and parking, hitching or towing the caravan were tasks usually done by men, while cooking (except barbecuing), cleaning and clothes-washing were usually carried out by women. New or modified responsibilities appeared to call forth extensions of established divisions of labour. Eating and cooking were not exceptions.

Touring or static, many caravaners take food with them, at least enough for a few days, often in tinned form for those on the move or home-frozen for those going to a static van. Self-catering was generally part of the attraction, and could be construed as both normal and different. Margaret reported that cooking in a caravan was easier than at home because her husband would not eat pre-prepared meals at home, but would happily accept convenience food in the caravan. In another case, some modifications made cooking more fun: sociable experiences of sharing a barbecue may represent desired and welcome breaks from normal food preparation. Indeed, barbecues were often cited examples of the "friendliness" found at sites and were described by some as a means of initiating social contact with other caravaners. That narratives of domestic improvisation were shared by all respondents serves to reinforce research which documents women's experiences of holidays taken in respondents' own homes. Here too, the holiday 'frame' allows participants to relax and let some domestic conventions slip (Deem 1996a; Deem 1996b). For those committed to caravaning as a means of "getting back to nature", invoking the nostalgia associated with camping foods, such as sausages, bacon and beans, implied not only that eating in the caravan was symbolically distinct from eating at home but that the practice generated conventions which, when contrasted with normal domestic routines, were presented as novel.

As these examples suggest, caravaners resolved the tension between novelty and routine in different ways. Those who viewed caravaning as a 'home from home' exhibited an unusual 'fear of flexibility' when stripped of comforting props and rituals. Deprived of normal symbols of security, their strategy seemed to be one of transferring everyday life to another site where it could be re-played, with only minor variations. However, caravaning can also turn everyday routine into entertainment, a transmutation typically reported by users of self- catering cottages and second homes (Chaplin, 2000). The attraction of playing house in this way is clear but it is also clearly different from that associated with an escape to nature or the construction of caravaning as an adventure.

Resolution of dilemmas regarding the perpetuation of, or the break from, domestic routine, highlights one of the fault-lines of differentiation amongst caravaners. While all cases suggest a loosening of normal practice within the holiday frame, the extent and form of relaxation was critical. For some, this amounted to little more than creating a home from home on a smaller scale. In other cases, caravaning maximised the potential for new experiences and encounters, meeting new people and 'joining-in' being an important part of the enterprise. Alternatively, the transformation was oriented around a nostalgic vision of life in the wild. Crucially, the degree and manner in which routines were modified constituted a basis for differentiation between caravaners.

Security and Anxiety

Leaving home behind can lead to the thrill of adventure or to fear of the unknown. Our respondents positioned themselves differently in this respect too, some exhibited a high degree of confidence about their encounters with the unknown and others a perceptible anxiety about what might go wrong. One reason for liking caravaning, prominent among the reasons for owning a static or touring van, was that the caravan interior was known and did not present any of the threats associated with hotel rooms used by untold numbers of previous occupants. As Colin explained, "the caravan's your own, you know where it's been and who's been in it". Knowing what you would be facing while away from home minimises many forms of anxiety. This came across through unfavourable comparison with the quality of cheaper accommodation in guest houses and hotels, and particularly with respect to food. Several interviewees disliked foreign holidays, often because they did not trust the food provided. For them, being able to cook what they wanted was especially important. Self-servicing, for all the extra labour it involves, was seen as a positive virtue, the exchange being worthwhile because it leads to greater independence and less exposure to risk.

Other interviewees positively valued the control, self-sufficiency, and autonomy which caravaning offered in comparison with other forms of holidaying. Obviating uncertainty and insecurity, circumventing threats from the outside world, avoiding being cheated or rendered vulnerable to events beyond their control, were principal objectives. Freedom was also perceived to exist in the choice of where to take a caravan, the ability to move on at a moment's notice, and independence from the rules and demands or restrictive timetables of hotel regimes. The value of personal self-control and of not having to depend on anyone else seem to touch something central to the activity of caravaning. Those for whom unexpected encounters were a source of anxiety and those who were simply using a caravan because it was a convenient base for other activities (such as bike riding and water-sports), were both enthusiastic about the equation between freedom of movement and independence, if for slightly different reasons. For some, security came in the form of knowing what lay ahead. For others it was the impression of unfettered control which constituted the main attraction. Either way, orientations toward the generic dilemmas of security and anxiety further differentiate the world of caravaning.

Privacy and Sociability

Themes of independence and self-reliance carried over to daily life on the site itself. This generates another potential source of ambivalence, the maintenance of an image of community existing alongside, and sometimes in tension with, a desire for privacy and non-interference. Framed by the physical layout of the site, the density and proximity of other caravans determines the distance between neighbours. Farmers' fields were the least prescriptive in this respect and caravaners were generally free to pitch where ever they wanted. By contrast, more organised sites were divided up into clearly demarcated plots. Irrespective of the way space was allocated, the caravaners we interviewed almost always sought some degree of privacy, and did so in terms which are not much different to those associated with lower middle class housing estates (Southerton 1999). While Sheila concluded that sites are "the friendliest places in the world", she was nevertheless keen to point out that caravaners "keep themselves to themselves", being helpful but not interfering. As she explained, she had met some "very nice people", but rather than socialising with them she had, and clearly preferred, "nice polite chats".

Larger sites with their strategically placed barbecues and formal layouts generally offered greater potential for the shared use of space. Semi-organised social occasions guaranteed interaction with the partial strangers who emerged from regimented ranks of identical vans. Other sites, for example those used for rallies (a designated field were members of various caravaning organisations 'meet' for pre-arranged events), had none of these formal organising principles.

Rallying enthusiasts were the most communitarian of those we interviewed but although they made little effort to cordon off their own space they still parked in lines. For these caravaners the opportunity to meet other enthusiasts in a space uninhibited by the infrastructure of formal sites was a crucial part of the experience. As Angus explained, most sociability occurred inside caravans and between established friends rather than with new found acquaintances. The privatised nature of the actual experience of caravan rallies gave an impression of equality and reinforced the sense of being among "like minded people" (Lydia). Paradoxically, such impressions seemed to be sustained by the lack of intimate interaction. Self sufficiency was a central value for almost all, and even the most sociable caravaners resisted succumbing to relations of mutual dependence. Excepting the need to use some, usually quite limited, central site facilities, for water, energy and so forth, caravaning typically involved a congregation of independent household units.

All respondents cherished privacy. The persistent narratives of freedom and self sufficiency also imply a measure of independence. Yet for some the attraction of caravaning lay in the possibilities it offered for easy sociability and the sense of belonging to a site based community whether of the Caravan Club variety or the Butlins type. In this respect the selection of a site was evidently important but again the site did not entirely determine the manner in which caravaners managed the boundaries of privacy and sociability.

Resolving Dilemmas

The three dilemmas we have outlined were handled differently by the caravaners we interviewed. Some valued privacy over sociability, some achieved a sense of security, some sought to perpetuate routine, others revelled in the possibilities of liminality. Not only did caravaners solve these common dilemmas in different ways but they took these strategies, and evidence of such in others, as the basis for a crude, often stereotypical system of mutual classification.

The table below captures the essential features of this classificatory scheme and shows how it relates to the resolution of the three core dilemmas discussed above. The columns identify four modes of caravaning grounded in typically different responses to the issues of familiarity and novelty; of self sufficiency and security; and, of privacy and sociability.

Figure 1: Modes of Caravaning
Core DilemmasFun SeekingPrivatisedActivity SeekingCommitted
Neutral response, or
one which favoured familiarity
Responses favoured
Neutral response or one
which favoured novelty
Responses favoured familiarity of caravan practices but novelty compared with domestic routines
Self sufficiency/
Neutral response or favoured securityResponses favoured securityNeutral response or one
which favoured
self sufficiency
Responses favoured self sufficiency
Privacy/ sociabilityResponses favoured sociabilityResponses favoured privacyResponses could be neutral, favouring sociability, or favouring privacy Responses favoured sociability

There are obvious areas of overlap and commonality between the four types of caravaning practice which we have labelled "Fun seeking", "Privatised", "Activity seeking" and "Committed". The fun seeking type treats the caravan as a neutral backdrop. Caravaning is simply the context or the setting for a relatively cheap, typically sociable holiday. The privatised mode values the safety, security and privacy which caravaning can offer. The activity seeking model is one in which caravaning is again a relatively neutral backdrop but for a more privatised form of self-determined activity such as walking, canoeing, cycling etc. The committed mode revolves around the serious pursuit of caravaning, treating this as an important activity in its own right.

Individual caravaners were not necessarily consistent in their caravaning practice, nonetheless we observed a degree of social closure between the four types. Those who favoured the privatised mode worried about noisy and ill-disciplined children and associated such behaviour with the sites and clientele typical of the fun seeking form. Meanwhile, committed caravaners reserved their greatest contempt for the privatised type, condemning them for their attachment to the privacy, comforts, and barely modified routines of normal domesticity. Experts scorned the incompetence of the inexperienced who failed to select a good position on a site or lacked the appropriate tools for the job. In the process of passing judgment on others, respondents betrayed their own self-images, classifying themselves as, say, adventurous, capable and gregarious, or as considerate, controlled and independent. Such prejudicial discourses were identified through types of practice which were thereby reinforced and reproduced.

To summarise, we have argued that the physical constraints associated with leisure caravaning generate commonalities of condition among those who participate. We have also suggested that caravan sites and caravans are used in significantly different ways depending on the manner in which the core dilemmas of caravaning are resolved. Practices, born of differential reactions to the common characteristics of the situation, in turn serve to locate self and others within the social worlds of caravaning. Having made some sense of the terms with which caravaners distinguish between each other, we finish by reconsidering the part which the caravan and the caravan site play in this process.

Caravans, Caravaning and Caravaners

Though focused on caravaning, this discussion is of wider relevance for the understanding of how standardized consumer objects are appropriated and given meaning, and of the direct, and perhaps more important the indirect, ways in which they configure both their users and the challenges which their users confront.

We picked on the caravan and on caravaners because of an apparent paradox. We observed that what was essentially the same thing, the caravan, was used in very different ways, and in ways which served to demarcate the social worlds of those involved. This presented a puzzle. What part, if any, did the caravan or even the caravan-plus-site play in the doing and in the social scripting of caravaning practices? Caravans themselves did not provide the raw material of social differentiation. One was much like another. Equally they did not serve to homogenise or directly determine caravaning practices. Within limits, caravans demand certain sorts of behaviour from their inhabitants, but as socio-technical systems their scripts are rather open.

Or at least that was how it first appeared. From observing and talking with caravaners we eventually concluded that the caravan could only be understood in terms of the way it was used. The possibilities of use are to a limited extent determined by the caravan's physical characteristics, and by the contexts and sites in which it is situated. While caravans in combination with sites do script practices in the Latourean sense, they do not only do so in a simple or direct manner. As we have shown, the situation, the site and the caravan, also have the more powerful effect of generating a suite of common dilemmas. Caravaners resolve these in different ways and it is how they do so, in other words it is through the more conventional Goffman-style scripts and practices of caravaning, that their social worlds are constructed and demarcated.

Although caravans seemed to be innocent parties in the narrative of caravaning, they turn out to have a dual role as objects. One is in directly shaping or scripting the practices of their inhabitants albeit in a limited way. Their other much more significant role is in defining and constituting a series of dilemmas. In this caravans function as much more than the backdrop to caravaning practice. They and the sites on which they are located have the uniform effect of pitching people into a predictable series of dilemmas relating to freedom, privacy and security. In this they have a critical part to play in creating and defining the sorts of challenges around which caravaning practices and social distinctions are ordered. How caravaners handle these tensions defines the types of caravaners they are. In this sense, caravaners' social worlds do revolve around the caravan, but not in the ways we initially expected. In developing this argument we echo Slater's view that in the analysis of consumption and leisure, 'something is missing between objects and signs, and that is practices' (Slater 1997: 3). With practices in the foreground, we reach two further conclusions. One is that things like caravans may do more than simply script their users' practices: they may also set the stage, defining challenges and dilemmas as well as favouring or enforcing certain forms of action. The other is that caravans, like other objects, may be implicated in the constitution and definition of problems around which social distinctions revolve. Again this takes us beyond the more conventional analysis of objects as the mere markers or carriers of difference.


1Surveys by the Caravan Club and Camping and Caravaning Club show that the average age of touring caravaners is fifty. They also use their caravans for frequent breaks in addition to holidays.

2Airstream caravans are styled to look aero-dynamic with sloping fronts, coloured windows, and metallic bodies.

3Eight interviews were conducted with caravaners, four with site owners/managers and two with caravan retailers.


We would like to thank all those caravaners whose recreational time we interrupted for this research, as well as the site managers and caravan retailers who agreed to talk with us.


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Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2001