Road Stories

Read Tocqueville or drive? Perspectives on the role of the automobile in American life

This text is an abridged version of a previously published article: Read Tocqueville, or Drive? A European perspective on US'automobilization', History and Technology, Vol. 26, No. 4, December 2010, pp. 379-398.

"The intelligence of American society lies entirely in an anthropology surrounding the country's automobile culture, which provides far more insight than its political ideology." Jean BAUDRILLARD, Amérique, Paris (Grasset, 1986), Descartes et Cie, 2000.

Over time, the perception of America's automobile phenomenon has evolved while certain features remain timeless. Though the Big Three (automakers) were nearly pushed into bankruptcy by the economic and financial crisis of 2008 (which ironically also marked the 100th anniversary of the Ford Model T), the notion of "automobility" has remained strongly associated with the United States. One possible explanation for this connection can be found in the recent seminal work by Cotten Seiler, entitled Republic of Drivers, A Cultural History of Automobility in America (Chicago UP, 2008).In some respects, this book provides a major contribution to the history of automobile technology, whose cultural, social and political challenges are now, more than ever, of critical and fundamental importance.