Autostop/hitchhiking: socio-spatial understandings

Patrick Laviolette (LIAS Leicester / UCL)
Michael O'Regan (Bournemouth University)
Dr Patrick Laviolette
Dr Michael O'Regan
SOAS - 9
Friday 5 June, 16:00-17:30

Short abstract:

Autostop/hitchhiking remains peripheral in anthropology and geography. Despite its global and (inter)trans-national aspects, even research in the social sciences and humanities has shun this formative and iconic type of mobility. This panel is an ongoing collective response to such oversights.

Long abstract:

Hitchhikers are an increasingly rare breed. As autostop's western frontier dwindles, its eastern extension also slows. Discourses on danger, individualism, marginality and cheap neoliberal alternatives predict the phenomenon's imminent extinction. We face an emergent, complex entangling of road networks no longer designed for people. Private, self-driving, autonomous (or driverless) vehicles promise to create a system of freedom and liberation. For many critics, however, they hybridise assemblages of human-technological landscapes into banal infrastructural spaces of car parks, filling stations and repair garages to service the motor and petro-chemical industries. These structure and produce unsustainable automobilities, reflecting deeper social anxieties of alienation, loneliness, melancholy and even rage. Paradoxically, the 21st c. is witness to an autostop/hitchhiking revival through race competitions, hitch-gatherings, art events, online publications and other audio-visual-textual accounts. Producing their own emotive geographies and socio-political reactions, autostoppers allegedly contest and subvert the apparent consensus of hyper-modern, friction-free transportation grids. The practice supports intense encounters with strangers whilst anomalously negotiating pseudo-public/private infrastructural spaces. Grounded in our respective interests into autostopping's diverse facets (such as risk, fear and trust, gender, tourism mobility, counter-culture, adventure seeking); the panel explores some of the activity's sites, narratives, eccentricities and embodied affectivities. Moreover, it will challenge current thinking about the organisation of movement, alienation and (auto)mobile materialities. We welcome papers that address such hitchhiking related themes in order to collate an academically publishable comprehensive overview on the practice. Hence, this is a follow up panel to the recent IUAES2019 session we held in Poznan, Poland.