Simon Fraser University

Dr. Arlene Tigar McLaren is Professor Emerita of Sociology at Simon Fraser University, Canada. Her main research interests are: feminist sociology; the intersectionality of gender/class/race/age; critical policy; education; the politics of family and immigration; daily mobility and gender; the politics of automobility; auto hegemony and safety. She is co-editor of Car Troubles: Critical Studies of Automobility and Auto-Mobility Recent articles focus on parents’ everyday mobility care in automobilized environments.

(Im)Mobile families: Exploring everyday practices in automobilized urban contexts

In wealthy countries such as Canada, car dependency has become increasingly entrenched in daily household practices. While this general trend is well known, little is understood about parents’ particular everyday experiences of caring for their children’s mobilities and immobilities in urban environments. Our research seeks to unpack the ways in which parents care for their children within the powerful and contested system of automobility; we examine how parents get around with their children, how they organize their children’s mobilities and attempt to keep them safe from traffic. Based on fifty in-depth interviews conducted in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2011-2012, this study locates parents’ mobility practices in four distinct neighbourhoods. These socio-spatial areas differ in their density, infrastructure and proximity to the city centre and in their socio-economic characteristics. Our focus on daily mobility practices within these diverse contexts allows us to explore the intricacies and systemic differences that create unequal experiences among urban families. The study’s findings show that parents’ experiences differ depending on whether or not they have access to the private automobile and on the degree to which automobility dominates local landscapes. The findings also illustrate how automobility reinforces and intensifies, in complex ways, such social inequalities as generation, gender, social class, and ethnicity. Auto hegemony excludes children as central social actors in using public space, intensifies gendered parenting by relying mainly on mothers to chauffeur and protect children from traffic dangers, and diminishes the inclusion of groups that have reduced social, cultural and economic resources. Yet, while the families’ mobilities and immobilities are framed by and constitute automobility, their practices are diverse, nuanced and multi-modal. Parents not only practice automobility, they often resist it in subtle and sometimes in not so subtle ways.