Archive for transportation infrastructure

Kritiking Transportation Infrastructure Investments, Part 4—A Little More

Posted in High School, lectures, tactics with tags , , , , , , , on June 26, 2012 by kevin kuswa

Strapping the family dog on the car and heading out for a family vacation is just the beginning.  Strapping the notion of transportation—the lengthy noun form of “transport,” to move from port to port—on top of the complicated concept of infrastructure and converting both of these thick words into adjectives modifying a favorite empty signifier among capitalists, “investment,” is like driving an old Toyota with llamas on the roof next to a suspiciously observant motorcyclist.  If you cannot critique the process, critique the vehicle.  If you cannot critique the vehicle, critique the situation.  If you cannot critique the situation, go back to the dog on the car and run politics.

image from blog.

Transportation takes countless forms and directions, as we are all discovering by researching this year’s high school policy debate topic:

Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.

Some introductory information can be found on the transportation infrastructure threads on this web site.   This post will jump from those starting points into a few specific thoughts about the wording and the possibilities for kritikal argumentation against and past the topic.

image from home page.

 As mentioned in the “maternal mobility” post, it was a little over one hundred years ago that Alice Ramsey took three companions from New York to California in the first crossing of the continent by a woman driver.  Now, a mere geologic blink of time later, we are completely saturated and defined by auto-mobility and the in/ability to move ourselves and our products along roads and highways.  Traffic congestion is probably only common among humans and ants.  Moving along railways, through the air, through the water, and even through the internet are also significant forms of transportation and circulation, but they are all supplemental to vehicles with wheels and the routes they traverse.  Even the primary forms of transportation most humans start with—knees and feet—have become secondary in many instances to the rush to drive.  Coming of age is often as much about the driver’s license and a set of keys than it is about something like the right to vote or an achievement representing maturity.

How did we get to this form of circulation? What are some ways to think transportation differently? And, ultimately, what is the purpose of building new platforms for movement?  Take a look initially at the resolution’s core and central descriptor: transportation.  Even if transportation is placed at the weak point in the three word phrase (the base of the topic is about investment, then you ask, “what kind of investment?”, before asking “what type of infrastructure investment,” etc.) it is still in essence a topic about transportation.  In other words, no one is going to call this “the investment topic.”  With that in mind, what do we mean by transportation itself, independent of infrastructure investment?  We should ask this question forcefully because if the affirmative cannot defend the concept of transportation, it makes more sense to simply increase infrastructure investment and not worry about the problems embedded in transportation (accidents, reliance on technology, building in capitalism, human-centered resource management, etc.).

Let us assume that for transportation to occur something of substance—some form—is necessary to bring itself to the “port” or to be delivered to the port; and, subsequently, that material substance is expected to undergo a certain portage in order to leave the portal in question and arrive at a distinct portal—whether it is a driveway, carport, airport, air terminal, train terminal, computer terminal, bus station, or dock—located at/in/of a different place, at/in/of a different time, or otherwise changed by a certain medium.  Let’s assume that this is what constitutes transportation—the movement or circulation of an item, person, or particular form like text, sound, or image.  If that is transportation, we need to think about the parallels and differences between transportation and transformation.

image from home page.

The reason the topic matters and the justification that must be provided by the affirmative is that an investment in transportation infrastructure has a purpose beyond an instrumental policy goal.  Many of these purposes—things like safety, jobs, economic growth, national pride, security, etc.—can be satisfied in other ways besides investing in one form of transportation over another.  The push to improve and expand transportation infrastructure is inevitable on a number of levels (population growth, technological advancement, private funding, to name a few reasons), and is perhaps more inevitable than many other human behaviors. The question is more about what types of infrastructure for what types of transportation and who will have what type of access to those modes?

Building a national railroad system is an example of a major investment in transportation infrastructure.  To what end was the railroad constructed and what purpose has the investment served?  There are a lot of good answers to those questions and the railroad is still quite essential to many components of society.  It is the ways that big questions about transportation are answered that can show how many justifications for transportation are simply conduits to other goals and aspirations.  What, intrinsically, then, is a defensible goal of transportation by itself?  Is it the process of movement in a type of exercise model?  Is it a notion of progress built on the human capacity to grow exponentially like a virus?  Transportation is certainly a mechanism for colonialism and warfare, not to mention slavery and other terrible atrocities.  We should not forget the ways transportation has led to oppression and death, for there are many instances where mass numbers of humans have been forcibly transported to prison camps and prohibited from any movement or worse.

A solid book by Paul Gilroy about the transatlantic slave trade, cultural studies in general, and the racial terror associated with the Enlightenment.

 Find a good combination of kritik arguments and articles and look for a niche.  There are a number of options beyond statism and capitalism, both still helpful for framing much of the problem with transportation infrastructure investment.  Better transportation implies more efficiency, better use of energy, and a sustainable view of the environment.  The three E’s (efficiency, energy, and environment) are a good matrix for coming up with some sophisticated kritik positions.  What types of structures are being made more efficient?  What type of access and authorization governs these new mechanisms for transport, including the sources of power necessary to maintain the system?  What places are transformed and how are those places occupied in order to accommodate more and more people moving further and further while linking themselves to more and more products and services?  The topic will be conceptualized as extremely human-centered through most affirmative cases, even more so than last year.  The earth itself becomes a mechanism to transport humans, let alone the de-valuing of the planet’s ecosystems and condition in the name of moving more items at a faster rate (Virilio).  Not only is the earth and its surface objectified and subordinated to human use through transportation infrastructure, so is subjectivity itself.  Humans and humanity do not matter as much as the technology that moves us and our items from place to place.  We lose agency by ceding it to our means of circulation—a giant revenge of the crystal hiding as the perfect crime.  Talk about ceding the political!, “How animals interact with human travel machines”

 Ever see a tollbooth without a road on either side of it?  Circulation is crucial to capitalism and an infrastructure investment in today’s economic climate reaffirms that relationship between technology, labor, and capital.  This is where it makes sense to unpack “infrastructure investment” and move into a criticism of market manipulation and “great works.”  Lots of tourists travel to Mount Rushmore to see the carvings of certain well-known Presidents, only to discover that the parking structure and base foundation are more impressive than the monument.  It is also more expensive to park in the infra/parking structure than to see the monument itself.  Hoover Dam is still more impressive than its quite amazing parking structure, but it is a close contest.  If you add the massive suspension bridge for humans and vehicles that rises high above the dam to the magnificence of the parking structure, the dam loses out.  The infrastructure within Yellowstone and Yosemite has started to rival the natural beauty of the parks.  It is often tough to keep the infrastructure from taking over the structure, making investments in such a process more parasitic than creative. Infrastructure is typically divided into hard forms of physical support—things like roads, canals, runways, potentially sewers, electricity grids, equipment production—and soft forms of institutional support—financial institutions, the judicial system, government management, etc.  The distinction between hard and soft infrastructure, however, is potentially a flawed line to draw because physical support requires administrative support and vice-versa.  Infrastructure is potentially everything that assists in the transportation process—anything that offers “structure” or “potential” to the act of transportation.  The affirmative has to increase that.  It should not be hard to tie the affirmative to an alliance with globalization, modernity, and structuralism, let alone the hierarchy and labor exploitation built into theories of the “base” and the “superstructure.”  “Infra-“ is beneath, within, below, or further.   These are words that tilt infrastructure toward order and a suprastructure, not toward criticism and the possibilities for poststructuralism.

A piece of road in the ocean.  A moving airport.  A view of the USS Midway.

 The telegraph was a popular form of communication in the 1800s, picking up from the use of smoke signals or flag symbols in previous eras.  Does the transmission of a telegraph demonstrate the link between communication and transportation?  Has communication ever separated from transportation?  If the internet is a form of transportation, what is its infrastructure and what does this mean for the place of transportation and the relevance of physicality?  These questions about what is being transported and what type of infrastructure allows the movement to take place are good ones to pursue.  Whether we are talking about the human body as a transportation vehicle, the first wheeled chariots or riverboats, the domestication and saddling of horses, the wheelbarrow, the first hang gliders and moments of flight, the submarine or steamboat, the commercial jet engine, or the space station, we are talking about physical movement.  In a way, so is the telephone or computer terminal (speech?)—sound and electricity can be transported—but there is still something different (or totally the same) about technologies of communication and technologies of transportation.  Ending there for now is as good as any, for this text has to move to your port (screen) to be shared.  Sharing ideas may be one good way to invest in transportation infrastructure.

Image appears in Igor I. Solar, Digital Journal, May 16, 2012 “Beijing’s Summer Palace ‘The Garden of Health and Harmony,’”

Transportation Infrastructure Investments and Maternal Mobility

Posted in camp, High School, Know Your History, lectures with tags , , , , , , , , on May 9, 2012 by kevin kuswa


The Birth of Transportation Infrastructure Investments and Maternal Mobility

It sounds like the articles about Fordism are helping to contextualize the high school debate topic on transportation infrastructure (or at least the posts are being “viewed”) so it makes sense to share a few additional pieces on the page.  I have decided to combine two essays on the links between Motherhood and auto-mobility in this post and will follow that up with a separate post on the figure of the fatal driver.  Much of this work appeared on the Shared Sacrifice website in 2009 and originated as part of a 2001 dissertation on American Highway Shifts written at the University of Texas at Austin and directed by Ron Greene.

By way of a preface, when thinking about the upcoming topic, Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States, there will be a tendency to jump to the exotic at the expense of what is right there in front of us every single day.  Certainly airports, space stations, and even computing clouds are a big part of our transportation infrastructure and offer countless avenues for debate, but America is a highway nation and will continue to exist in that domain for a long period of time.  We drive places and use roads—virtually every day and often multiple times a day.  When we are talking about transportation investments, we have to start with roads and the vehicles that traverse them—how can we bypass the interlocking network of car-paths defining a vast majority of our capacity to move and experience place?  We cannot and should not.

In that spirit, this piece turns from the geopolitical importance of Fordism to the homestead of maternal mobility in an attempt to mark that patriarchal division of transportation and critique the domestication of transportation from a historical perspective in much the same way we learned that the personal is political.  Comments and questions welcome as always.  Enjoy.


Driving Ourselves and the Rise of Maternal Auto/mobility


Wright’s (1939) The Car Belongs to Mother


Kevin Douglas Kuswa, PhD

July, 2009



1. Driving Subjectivities and the Emergence of the Mobile Mother


What concrete traits make up our identities as we participate in the highway machine?  What are the effects of America’s addiction to cars and speed?  What do cars and speed mean for American individualism?  What does the emerging notion of the driver do to our communities, our families, or our bodies?  How does the motor vehicle take over our lives so quickly and so pervasively?  What types of people fall into (and out of) place through the discourse of the driver’s seat?  And, interlocking all of these questions: What makes a machine distinct from a horse or even from the human body?  Is the driver distinct from the machine being driven?  Driving no longer involved building or assembling.  Marking this transition, Dunbar (1915) positioned the human race on the cusp of a technological revolution in transportation—the edge of an era where a majority of Americans would ride in cars every day, yet not have a solid idea what made the vehicle move (nor want such knowledge).  Human “auto” agency became possible, but always contained by the mechanism of circulation and the availability of roads.


“The average mind already shrinks from efforts to assimilate what eyes behold and hands use, and so, hereafter, we must accept much of what is done for us without understanding, content to let a few work in regions not for us, while we casually employ what they bestow.  Those who hereafter become benefactors of the race through invention and discovery in the fields of physical and mechanical science are destined to find their large reward within their own thoughts….Thus it has always been, and much more often will it be so in the future.  It is not because we are thoughtless, or ungrateful.  It is because we have so many other things to think about, and to do.”  (Dunbar, 1915, p1366)


In Dunbar’s frame, the reward for average Americans outside the invention loop was the opportunity to drive these new technologies.  Of course, much of the driver’s circulation was imaginary and hopeful, for only 15 to 20 percent of Americans had the luxury of using the cars and highways that other specialists had crafted.  Even among the individuals using the highways and driving vehicles, automobile ownership was more of a privilege than a given.

For those Americans starting to take on roles as drivers, the beginnings of their pervasiveness can be charted in the appearance of road-user coalitions.  An intersection of different types of drivers (commercial and personal), these road-user groups included private truckers, oil and gas distributors, for-hire shippers, and members of automobile owners associations.  The road-users adamantly opposed federal gas and vehicle taxes, even though they favored additional federal spending on road construction and repairs.  Their arguments included a petition (submitted to Congress in 1947) stating that road-related taxation was unjust “because the burden is determined by the distance the taxpayer must drive” to work (Rose, 1990, p34).  The intense lobbying effort did not take hold until the mid-50s.  Despite the efforts of the National Highway Users Conference in 1949, President Truman extended the federal tax on gasoline.  A few taxes could not restrain the proliferation of the driver, however, for as early as 1915 it was reported that, “American opinion was demanding one car for every American family” (Pettifer & Turner, p101).  It is not surprising that America’s opinions did not correspond to the constraints of economic inequality, prohibiting most individuals from affording a reliable automobile.  Nevertheless, with a brief pause during the Depression, both the demand and the means to acquire automobiles would increase continuously in the U.S. during the course of the 20th Century.

Some of the interaction between the automobile and the family comes to light in the notion of the mobile Mother (or maternal driver).  Here, we should note that many familial aspirations were not satisfied, reinforcing class divisions.  As many as 41 percent of families “still lacked personal automobility in the form of the family car as late as 1950” in the U.S. (Flink, 1988, p131).  In particular, segregation in cities like Atlanta and Chicago testified to Flink’s (1988, p135) contention that “blacks were not to share proportionately in the extension of the ‘American dream’ of the automobile commute to a suburban home.”  Racial and class divisions marked the driver as a manifestation of white privilege.  Discussing various types of drivers in relation to the car as a cultural object, Meaghan Morris (1993, p288) argues that we should “consider cars as mobile, encapsulating vehicles of critical thinking about gender, race, and familial space, articulating a conflict between a ‘society’ and an ‘environment’ that is nonetheless mutually, historically, and perhaps catastrophically, entailed.”  The subject of the car, the driver, arises as central to human struggles over space and identity.

From the road-user coalitions, the figure of the driver shot off in multiple directions.  Moving to a more abstract plane, the state and the market began to articulate the driver as a political or economic unit.  The political unit solidified itself through a driver’s license, access to a means of transit, and an obligation to follow the laws of the road.  The economic unit solidified itself through the purchase of an automobile and its fuel, a contribution to the economy’s circulation of goods and services, and as a relatively large source of disposable income.  A surge in anti-diversion legislation during the period marked a struggle constituting the driver as an economic unit capable of being taxed in a comprehensive way.  Diversion would allow drivers to become a source of revenue for other programs sponsored by the government through a legislative siphoning of highway revenues for competing social needs such as education, defense spending, health care, etc.  Highway proponents, naturally, demonized these leaks and passed anti-diversion legislation.[1]  Eventually solidified by Constitutional amendments in 21 states that earmarked gas tax revenue for further road construction, state highway trust funds secured a self-propelling transportation infrastructure based on the car.

On a less abstract plane, road-users emerged as truckers with specific economic interests tied to the process of driving, as well as private individuals running errands or recreating.  Through the advent of motorized vehicles, the body took on new roles and was produced in new and varied ways.  The driver was molded into a specific subject capable of distinct modes of circulation.  This body was expected to operate the speed and acceleration of a motorized vehicle by strapping to a chair, manipulating a combination of levers and pedals, and following certain speed limits and other road norms to ensure safety and reach the desired destination.  Despite these new demands on the body of the driver, the physical requirements of driving were less strenuous than previous forms of transit, per mile traveled.  This new efficiency prompted James Flink (1988, p162) to comment: “Because driving an automobile requires skill rather than physical strength, women could control one far easier than they could a spirited team (of horses).”  Indeed, the car was not a privilege reserved to men as much as it was an extension of the domestic duties performed by many women.  Ruth Schwartz Cowan (1983, p85) explained the significance of the car and the driver to the 20th Century figure of the Mother:

“By mid-century, the automobile had become, to the American housewife of the middle classes, what the cast-iron stove in the kitchen would have been to her counterpart of 1850—the vehicle through which she did much of her most significant work, and the work locale where she could be most often found.”

Yet, how can we talk about specific people and identities if we conceive of each and every driver as representative of some other homogenous group?  How can we talk about women drivers, for instance, and specific women drivers in the suburb connected to their surroundings and neighbors by the on-going process of chauffeuring?



2. Women Drivers: The Car Belongs to Mother


In Pettifer and Turner’s (1984) history of drivers in America, Automania, depictions of the woman driver are scant and generalized, often bordering on exploitative.  Not only are they commenting on a car culture that objectified women as either housewives running errands or desperate singles latching on to the man with the flashiest car, Pettifer and Turner are also complicit in such objectification by positioning women as largely absent or passive in the automobile arena.  Other than the chapter on “The Car and Courtship” (Pettifer & Turner, 1984, p181-201), women are mentioned fewer than twenty times, and even then are described as submissive, domesticated, incapable of dealing with adversity, or sexually explicit hood ornaments.  Especially in Pettifer and Turner’s account of the years prior to the Depression, women are usually portrayed as simple passengers or on-lookers.

According to their history, only a few woman–the rare exceptions–broke the mold to take the wheel in a “man’s world.”  Not a single woman driver enters their narrative during the first forty pages of the book.  At that point, Pettifer and Turner paraphrase Dorothy Levitt’s advice on fashion for “ladies” and what was required for proper “motoring dress,” encouraging women to plan well for their public excursions.  Their aim was to help women drivers avoid losing their femininity while remaining safe and prudent:


“In The Woman and the Car (1909) she advises the woman driver to aim for neatness and comfort and to avoid flamboyancy: ‘Under no circumstances wear lace or “fluffy” adjuncts to your toilette.’…. The prudent lady motorist should also carry an overall of butcher blue or brown linen to slip over her clothes for the time when greasy maintenance work had to be done; and a pair of wash leather gloves to help keep hands ladylike.  She adds that the woman driver traveling alone should carry a small revolver to defend herself on the highways and byways” (Pettifer & Turner, 1984, p45).


The details of the advice offered to women drivers imply that most drivers at the time were male, but it also demonstrates a growing concern for the needs of the woman driver.  James Flink reports that automobile manufacturers had women in mind when they replaced the hand-crank for starting the engine with a self-starter.  Introduced in 1912, the self-starter was advertised as the “ladies’ aid” and was followed by the closed car in 1919, “which obviated wearing special clothes while motoring and put middle-class women drivers in conventional gasoline automobiles in droves” (Flink, 1988, p162).

Even though Pettifer and Turner may erase women from the driving experience prior to 1956, their history does not write over the experiences of the tens of thousands of women who put themselves behind the wheel as the highway machine made its entrance.  In 1899, the same year the first U.S. driver’s license was issued to a woman from Chicago, women in society clubs decorated cars with flowers and drove them in a New Port, Rhode Island parade (McShane, 1997, p26).  In 1903, Oldsmobile began advertisements in the Ladies’ Home Journal and a group of women drivers formed their own auto club in New York City.[2]  From the very beginnings of the auto industry, advertisements had been directed toward women under the assumption that those women who did not drive the family car would at least be directly involved in its purchase.  In 1910, Laura Dent Crane published the first of a “six-volume Automobile Girls Series” called Automobile Girls along the Hudson.  By 1917, 23 percent of drivers in Los Angeles were women (McShane, 1997, p30-53).  Clearly, women were extending themselves into these automobile as drivers.  Flink (1988, p163) notes that “most of the comfort and convenience options added to cars—including vanity mirrors, plush upholstery, heaters, air conditioning, and automatic transmissions—were innovated with the ladies especially in mind.”

Following their prescription for the woman driver, Pettifer and Turner then mention the story of Alice Huyler Ramsey who became the first woman to drive across the country, journeying from Hell’s Gate on the Atlantic to the Golden Gate on the Pacific.  Making up one of their rare forays into the realm of women drivers, Pettifer and Turner (1984, p75) write: “Perhaps the most conclusive and remarkable proof of the taming of America’s great open spaces came in 1909 when 22-year-old Alice Ramsey, with three female companions, became the first woman to drive across America.”  Ramsey’s taming of America’s spaces is reminiscent of the ways that female objects are tamed through the automobile.  In another disturbing passage, Pettifer and Turner (1984, p93) participate in such objectification by leaving the following statement about the spokes model for the MG company unquestioned (and tacitly supported): “The MG Girl was an amalgam of so many of our automobile fantasies: the freedom of the road, the open car, the lure of speed, and the implicit sexual promise offered by the well-bred but thoroughly modern girl raring to go.”  Such objectifying (and widely circulating) advertisements are not enabling in the struggle against patriarchy.  Before engaging in a comprehensive critique of representations of women alongside the automobile, however, a more contoured example arrives in the form of the mobile Mother.

As an expression of women drivers negotiating subjectivity through the automobile, Priscilla Wright writes The Car Belongs to Mother in 1939, a book devoted to “the many problems which beset the woman driver” (Wright, 1939, piv).  Over the course of its eighty pages, this work travels through ten chapters, or arenas of advice, including “The Chauffeuring of Husbands,” “School Chauffeuring,” “The Right Service Station,” and “The New Car.”  Directed toward a specific audience (married women sharing a car in the suburbs with their husbands), the book diagrams a number of characteristics of a specific highway subjectivity: the suburban, married, woman chauffeur.  She has a clear sense of belonging to the automobile and has adapted it, in an unashamedly feminine way, to the rigors of everyday life.  Maybe Priscilla Wright is simply articulating her own identity–maybe she is only writing a loosely guarded autobiography.  Regardless of her intent, though, this book as a guidebook for women who operate cars on a daily basis positions and creates the subjectivity of mobile motherhood.  Fluctuating between the triumphs of liberation and the torture of needless repetition, Priscilla’s Wright’s (1939, pxiv) mobile Mother is many people wrapped together.


“Man sees the automobile, invented by him, improved by him, fashioned for his pride and pleasure, become, as he believes, the plaything of Woman….She deals, rather, with the problems of the matron–and her name is truly legion–who, with the one family car at her disposal, transports her husband to and from trains, her children to school, herself to market, club members to their homes on unaccepted streets and relatives on their various whims and vagaries.  Truly this woman is a gallant creature, a creature of wit and resourcefulness, of nerve and verve.  May she receive consolation and help from these humble pages and may Man, after reading them, meet her more respectfully upon the road and reverently exclaim, ‘God wot.  A woman driving!’”


The multiple subject positions of our present era were abundant before the close of the 1950s and far before the complete arrival of the highway machine.  Attaching the mobile Mother to many of these pre-highway subjects, the stereotyping and essentialism in Wright’s statement constrains women to preconstructed lines within a patriarchal society.  Stereotyping occurs when Wright establishes the woman as the domestic servant for her husband, the woman who may be able to operate the automobile but could never invent or build such a thing.  Essentialism occurs when Wright reduces the essence of the married woman to a submissive and supporting figure who manages the domestic sphere.  On the other hand, there are marks of resistance available in Wright’s perspective that can contribute to a map of radical feminism in opposition to trajectories that would either blame the processes of technology and science or remain in a liberal theory of equality.[3]  We return to these cracks of resistance after laying out more of Wright’s text.

Beginning with the concern that marriage is more about being a chauffeur than being in love, Wright (1939, p1) imagines a set of wedding vows that would include a promise to drive the children to school in foul weather and to pick up the husband’s clothes from the cleaners.  She only entertains this rebellious thought momentarily, for such a “disillusioning clause would mean fewer marriages, a lower birth rate, and a marked decline in suburban property values.”  Not about to risk such a dramatic restructuring of family life, Wright (1939, p1) consents: “Better that woman should continue to bend her back to the yoke, and keep her hand on the throttle.”  This axiom of automobile martyrdom does not hold for single women, working women, or married women who aren’t responsible for driving their husbands to the station—the “keep-to-the-throttle” message is “concerned wholly with the suburban husbands who live too far from the station to walk to it and who wouldn’t walk to it anyway” (Wright, 1939, p2).

As the mobile Mother drives the family to and from school, work, baseball practice, the cleaners, music lessons, the market, and the swimming pool, she both fulfills her role as an American housewife and circumvents it at the same time by taking charge through various regulation and management strategies.[4]  When the family purchases a new car, the husband attempts to take control of the vehicle by lecturing the rest of the family on its care and use.  Even though the mother will eventually discover the peculiarities of their new vehicle, the husband attempts to assert his dominance by lecturing from the pamphlets and instruction books, “and the wife has to listen, perforce” (Wright, 1939, p61).  Not only does she have to listen, she has to remain passive and submissive to give her husband the illusion of control.  The wife must muster all of her courage as a strategy of self-protection: “During this period, indeed, she can do nothing but call on all her inner resources of courage and strength and remind herself that, like the dew of the morning, it soon will pass, although it may take longer” (Wright, 1939, p61).  The point is not to interpret the mindset of the infantalized wife, but to map the way relations among family members operate through the functions of the car.  The roles of the mobile Mother seem to shift back and forth in tandem with the car–the car is personified at times as the quiet but dependable servant of the family and the mother is empowered at times as the gatekeeper of transit.[5]

Wright continues to both criticize and praise the mobile Mother’s position as domestic facilitator in her chapter on “School Chauffeuring.”  She (Wright, 1939, p13) claims, with a sardonic edge, that “school chauffeuring is one of the most vicious practices of the present day” because of its ability to undermine a mother’s stamina and vitality.  Even though the typical chauffeur takes on stereotypes of the “old man behind the wheel” or the “butler-driver,” Wright’s figure of the chauffeur revolves around the housewife.  For the mobile Mother, the “schoolhouse is never near the house you bought” and “modern children are appallingly puny” (Wright, 1939, p13), requiring the driver to pull up directly in front of each child’s home and escort them to and from the car.  “In spite of being stuffed with vitamins and spotlighted with violet rays, the child of today is utterly unable to stand up to a raindrop, a snowflake, or a drop in Fahrenheit” (p13).  Wright does not elaborate on the “appalling” traits of “modern children” except to complain that the health of the neighborhood kids is always precarious and capable of disrupting any schedule.  The consuming task of chauffeuring “has its bright side,” though, for Wright (1939, p16) admits that “many firm friendships are formed among the chauffeurs, who otherwise might not know one another.”  Despite the enclosed nature of the car’s sense of individualism (freedom in a box), these women drivers were able to “exchange news and recipes as they parked conveniently abreast or at casual angles in the schoolyard and in the street in front” (Wright, 1939, p16).

The maneuvering of the automobile necessary for chauffeuring demonstrates a certain mastery of surrounding technology.  As much more than a coping strategy, agency abounds in the image “of two women jockeying their cars so that, without shutting of the motors or putting on the breaks, they can draw alongside each other in the middle of the road and pass through the open windows boxes containing costumes for school plays or cakes for food sales” (Wright, 1939, p17).  Does this manipulation of space by the mobile Mother resist what Donna Haraway (1991, p19) calls technological applications of the “political principle of domination”?  Haraway explains this argument by mapping machinery and its scientific base as complicit in domination:


“The political principle of domination has been transformed here into the legitimating scientific principle of dominance as a natural property with a physical-chemical base.  Manipulations, concepts, organizing principles–the entire range of the tools of science–must be seen to be penetrated by the principle of domination.[6]



Yet, Haraway realizes later that science and technology cannot be demonized–at least not without also admitting to their productive potential.  As an escape from the specifics of certain oppressive arrangements, machines and their functions must be reclaimed and re-articulated.  Put differently, technologies have effects that can be productive and emancipatory, as well as destructive and restrictive.



3.  Does the Mobile Mother Belong to the Car?


In one way, Priscilla Wright (1939) and her interrogation of the relationship between the car and the Mother has generated a genealogy of leaving the house and all that it entails.  Indeed, her work could be positioned to operate alongside the notion of an emancipatory potential for selectively deployed technologies.  In her move following the articulation of the chauffeur’s social space, Wright embraces a Spivak-style of “strategic essentialism” by critiquing the father’s presence in the sphere of the schoolyard.  She does this by isolating the male essence (or masculine traits) implicit in the Father’s arrival at the school and then criticizing his general lack of understanding and effectiveness in such an environment.  The schoolyard and its parking lot are almost a “private public” open to mothers and their children but not to fathers and their brash style.  It is valuable to chart Wright’s essentialism (of women as masters of the domestic economy and men as incapable of successfully raising or tending to the children) as partially resistant to the male norm.  Such transgression may only take place in the school parking lot, but in that arena Wright (1939, p17) associates the father with an unwelcome intruder capable of disrupting the balance of the local environment:


“Yet leave the girls to themselves and everything goes off like clockwork, not a fender or bumper scratched and the schoolyard cleaned with swiftness and skill.  Let one man come into the yard, however, and there is sure to be trouble….Let one lone father, home for the day and eager to help, drive in, and pandemonium reigns.  He utterly fails to grasp the spirit of informality and camaraderie that prevails.  When he sees what is to him a jigsaw puzzle of cars, he immediately becomes outraged and panic stricken, and in two minutes has turned a peaceful social schoolyard into a madhouse of honking horns and locked bumpers.”


The challenge that Wright offers here may not translate into critical radicalism in relation to the patriarchy.  Wright’s protective defense of the schoolyard may indirectly extend her domestication into certain public places such as the mall, the church or the school.  When a woman’s activity is acknowledged, “it is commonly held to be less sophisticated, and in many cases less authentically political, than the involvements of men” (Stilanen & Stanworth, 1984, p11).  Thus, the activities of a mobile Mother like Wright’s protagonist are “explained as a direct product of a woman’s social role as wife and mother and her mythical status as purity personified.  This distortion involves an assumption that women’s present weak political position is necessary and functional” (Bourque & Grossholtz, 1984, p105).  The devaluing of housework as well as women’s labor outside of the home lends credence to the view that the limited public spaces available to women were feminized, privatized, or otherwise subordinated to the “real” public sphere governed by men.

The Mother driver should be at the service of the husband’s friends and relatives (Wright, 1939, p31), wary of male pedestrians (p42), respectful of her husband’s superiority when repairing the automobile is in order (p44), and ready to “stand by the car, looking as helpless as possible” (p55) if something goes wrong some distance from a garage.  For Wright (1939, p55), “women should never attempt any repair work themselves.”  It is the driving that the mobile Mother must perform effectively, not the mechanical tinkering required to keep the automobile in operation.  Wright (1939, p79) concludes with a plea to the mother to maintain her mobility: “Tireless, courageous, venturesome…on she goes!  Will she stop?  Not if she knows!” (Wright, 1939).  Even though the Seneca Falls convention had declared that “Women are citizens; their relationship to the state should be direct and unmediated by husband or children” (Evans, 1989, p95), the expansion of domesticity extended the mediated role performed by many mother.  In this case, women’s roles were mediated by the automobile as much as the husband or the children.  “Domesticity had emerged from the era of association as a much expanded version of republican motherhood” (Evans, 1989, p95), and women were still “responsible for children, the home, and morality.”

How does the figure of the Mother intersect with the mobility afforded by the automobile to produce a certain trajectory of motherhood attached to many middle class married women?  Following the schizophrenic protrusions of the figure of the driver (negotiating poles of intimacy and distance in relation to the automobile), we must acknowledge that metaphors can work in complementary and competing directions—the affirmation and confrontation implied by motherhood is a great example.  Mothers can be both passively nurturing and violently protective.  Of course the woman driver takes many paths, and Wright’s driver is usually more nurturing than violent, but each subject position flows through mixed and contradictory personas.  Priscilla Wright walks both sides of the fence when she attaches the newly available automobile to her own sense of worth and freedom, while simultaneously constructing the vehicle as a disciplinary mechanism that locks her into a specific role of domestication.  As Evelyn Nakano Glenn (1994, p5) posits in her article on the social constructions of mothering, to “emphasize the social base of mothering is to attend to the variation rather than searching for the universal, and to shift what has been on the margins to the center.” Just as Glenn articulates the duality of the Mother and her fierce compassion, so too does Wright articulate the duality of the mobile Mother: driving to both escape and uphold the family.

Motherhood in the 1920s and beyond was not all tied up in the automobile or driving, but many middle and upper class women transformed their notions of mothering through the (im)mobility offered by the car.  By the time The Car Belongs to Mother (1939) was published, many advances in women’s rights had been achieved such as better labor laws, the opening up of previously closed public spaces, and the Constitutional right to vote signed on August 26, 1920.  Yet, even after the large-scale mobilization of the women’s rights movement, countervailing trends such as the “feminine mystique”[7] resulted in a celebration and strengthening of domesticity “during the 1950s when married women were in fact taking jobs in record numbers” (Margolis, 1984, p4).  Maxine Margolis, an Anthropologist coming to the question of motherhood with the analytical tools of cultural materialism, argues that the dichotomy between public culture and private culture warrants a critical history of the meaning of motherhood in America.  Margolis (1984, p6) focuses on “middle class American women as mothers, housewives, and workers” in an attempt to add to a critical and cultural perspective to previously rigid ideologies of motherhood.

Critiques of the “proper role of women” were becoming more common in the 1950s, but the women who did enter the workforce were usually taking low-paying and dead-end jobs.  Well into the later years of the 20th Century (and extending into today), women were under-represented and underpaid in the workforce.  At the same time, women have “continued to bear primary responsibility for child care and housework” (Margolis, 1984, p5).  Despite the flaws in an analysis or cultural history that relies exclusively on prescriptive writings, Margolis (1984, p10) deploys them to uncover “ideologies about women’s place in the scheme of things, a place that varied over time according to the exigencies of the material order.”[8]  These prescriptive histories, including Wright’s text, are drawn from books, manuals, pamphlets, or other literature designed to provide advice or guidelines for a particular group at a given time and place.  Margolis recognizes from the outset that most prescriptive histories are already targeted toward white wealthy consumers living predominantly in urban areas.  Given these and other limitations, it may be the case that such prescriptive writings “were indeed addressed to the white middle class woman, and as such they do not and cannot provide us with a guide to contemporary views of poor, nonwhite, or immigrant women” (Margolis, 1984, p8).  Nevertheless, specific changes within the rubric of the white, middle class, married woman may be evident in these historical directives.

Ideological trends follow alongside prescriptive histories, and Margolis (1984, p9) has documented how “both the tone and content of books dealing with motherhood, housekeeping, and women as workers did change over time.”  Indeed, the very gap between a prescriptive history and its historical context may point to the ways an ideology contributes to the production of subjectivity.  The “as if” connecting ideologies to lived experience (Greene, 1998a) permits the mother to define herself as if the proper development of her children is her primary responsibility.  Once the concept of motherhood articulates a link between the mother and the child as the central responsibility of the mother, it follows that something like the automobile would extend that responsibility rather than providing an escape from it.  Coming back to the automobile later, it is first significant to note the prevailing intersection between a woman, a mother, and her child:


“The ideology that full-time mothering was essential to the proper development of the child met with little or no dissent in the prescriptive writings of the years 1900 to 1940.  Even during the depression when economic necessity forced more married women than ever before to take jobs, the experts’ relentless insistence on the centrality of the mother’s role did not abate….While motherhood after the turn of the century was still a woman’s central occupation, it was no longer her only one.” (Margolis, 1984, p44)


Margolis uses the historian Mary Ryan to back up her argument that the role of the mother did not substantially change in the 1900s; rather, the major change was the addition of other roles and responsibilities to the previous duties of the mother.  Mary Ryan (1975, p243) observed that women had become “social housekeepers” even though few challenged the “notion that child rearing was a woman’s principal responsibility.”  The major difference, mirroring the schizophrenia of the driver, was that the mother was now expected to play even more roles.  The automobile only furthered the potential for more tasks to be undertaken by the mobile Mother.  Margolis (1984, p44) contends that the crucial change after the turn of the century “was that now other activities could be added to child care.”

An important question here is whether or not the inclusion of women drivers into the fold of driver through mobile motherhood can offer an emancipatory alternative to patriarchal norms of automobile ownership.  In other words, once the subject position of the driver is opened up to women, how does the automobile become a means of expression?  How does the automobile reinforce and legitimize patriarchal formations of the family and the individual?  How do women drivers challenge and extend notions of feminism, rhetoric, and identity?  As a small start toward putting these questions on the map of the highway machine, this section positions Wright’s 1939 treatise within a staunchly entrenched patriarchy operating through technology, science, politics, and the military.  Nevertheless, machines also provide escape-routes to male-centered oppression, for it is not mechanization that relegates women to roles of inferiority; rather, it is the deployment of particular types of mechanization.

This diagram points to an arrangement of motherhood that allowed the automobile as a technology of mobility to be deployed as another ensnaring mechanism that perpetuates the mother’s subservience to her children and her husband.  Before and after World War II, in Margolis’ account, the strict and regimented childcare suggested by Watson and the behavioralists fell to the wayside in the favor of a hands-off approach called the “permissive” school of child rearing.  Foreshadowing Lauren Berlant’s (1997) critique of fetal rights and infantile citizenship as a means to disembody and regulate women, Margolis contends that what was permissive for the child was also obligating and domesticating for mothers.  In the new paradigm, Margolis (1984, p62-3) declares that the child was “to lead and the mother would follow,” the child was to have “free rein,” and the child was to be nurtured with an “emphasis on individuality and a tendency toward self-indulgence.”  Moreover, the child-care advice published in the 1940s and 50s did not speak to the growing number of non-married women, single mothers, working mothers, and many other women in unique circumstances.  This “disjunction” (Margolis, 1984, p65) grew throughout the second half of the century as the 1960s saw “more and more mothers of school age children holding jobs.”

In many ways the permissive school of mothering common during Priscilla Wright’s era was simply a confirmation of the place of the child at the center of the family.  Families that did not conform to this norm were not incorporated into the scope of Wright’s work and similar documents operating within the permissive child rearing perspective.  An additional problem inherent in relying on prescriptive histories bears itself out in the gap between the familial norm imagined by Priscilla Wright and historical challenges to the universal nature of that norm.  The problem can be mapped through the processes that would connect Wright’s excluded audience to the same group of people excluded by the creation of suburbia around policies promoting white privilege.  In other words, when Helen Leavitt (1970) writes her book attacking the Interstate Highway, Superhighway-Superhoax, she is talking to many of the people ignored by Wright three decades years earlier.  Wright’s work, regardless of her intent, ignored a number of women because they were not part of a middle class family “emboldened” by the power and luxury of the automobile and reliable highways.

Speaking to the flip side of Leavitt’s equation, Wright’s audience was primarily made up of white, middle class, married women who had not submitted to rising inflation or the growing demand for female labor outside of the home.  This group was largely the same demographic who would help to populate the suburbs over the remainder of the 20th Century.  On the other hand, the positioning of Wright’s book within the history of motherhood in the United States is not a form of criticism that would hinge on uncovering the voices neglected by any particular text.  Such interpretation (ideological criticism in Margolis’ frame) is a project distinct from, and subsumed by, this inquiry.  The impact of the mobile Mother, within machinic rhetoric, is that the map of subjectivity generated by the highway machine in the U.S. implicates a specific intersection between the woman driver and the motherhood of many predominantly white, married, middle and upper class women.

Transformations and transitions in subjectivity, of course, operate through arrangements that include imaginary projections such as an applied audience.  Competing audiences help to draw these specific arrangements, even though they are supplemental to the contexts provided by abstract diagrams (the highway machine) and concrete machines (Priscilla Wright’s automobile).  The imagined audience of a situated text is different from the “actual” reception of the text, a utopian notion of reception that should not distract criticism from diagramming the “second persona” in its contingency and context.  Questions concerning audiences can be worthwhile tracks.  Borrowing from Edwin Black (1970, p112), it is important to recognize “the possibility, and in some cases the probability, that the author implied by the discourse is an artificial creation: a persona, but not necessarily a person.”  This persona may not be embodied, according to Black (1970, p117), but s/he certainly represents a figure implied by the projection of a given discourse—a “model of what the rhetor” would generate as an identity for the audience at that moment.  Going slightly further, Philip Wander (1984) opens up the possibility and probability of an excluded audience and the need to speak for (or with) this marginalized “third persona.”[9]

An example of the second persona in Wright’s work is the mobile Mother and all that she entails for women, motherhood, and highway subjectivities.  In addition, Margolis marks the third persona (or at least one of them) in Wright’s book by accounting for a discrepancy between the mothers imagined by a given prescriptive history and the material factors constituting motherhood at the time.  Thus, the impact of this map is that the subject of the mobile Mother—as she emerges alongside the highway machine and within The Car Belongs to Mother—acts to challenge the assumption that the typical driver is always male as well as the assumption that women do not negotiate their subjectivity as drivers in complex and contradictory ways.  The impact of this map is also that the subject of the mobile Mother provides its challenge in ways that are partially defeating.  The mobile Mother is complicit in notions of motherhood that exclude many women as well as notions of motherhood that conflate the identity and expression of the mother with the well-being and development of her children.


4. Returning Home  


Donna Haraway adds a few dimensions to the subjectivity of mobile Motherhood, especially as transformations in the domestic economy and the meaning of motherhood flow forth from industrialism.  When we map the mother as a particular subject generated by the arrival of automobile transportation, one aim is to attach the domestic chauffeur to a dominant narrative perpetuated by heterosexism and patriarchal culture.  The way transportation emerges in this country helps to produce a constraining subjectivity in that the mother is subordinate to the family automobile and dehumanized as the vehicle’s insufficient caretaker.  Wright demonstrates, however, that the mobile Mother also expresses herself in a complex narrative of frustration and empowerment.  The re-telling of the mother’s schizophrenic negotiation (or doubling) of the automobile is another challenge to “perceptions of clear distinctions between subject and object” (Haraway, 1997, p267).  Haraway  (1997, p269) goes further by interrogating the misplaced distance between science and feminism:


“Attention to the agencies and knowledges crafted from the vantage point of nonstandard positions (positions that don’t fit but within which one must live), including the heterogeneous locations of women, and questions about for whom and for what the semiotic-material apparatuses of scientific knowledge production get built and sustained are at the heart of feminist science studies.  Interrogating critical silences, excavating the reasons questions cannot make headway and seem ridiculous, getting at the denied and disavowed in the heart of what seems neutral and rational: these notions are all fundamental to feminist approaches to technoscience.”


Continuing to borrow from Haraway (1997, p267), the interrogation of knowledge and what counts as meaning “depends, paradigmatically, on undoing the founding border trace of modern science–that between the technical and the political.”  The border between the technical and the political collapses in two ways through the abstract diagram of the driver and the concrete diagram of the mobile Mother.  First, the initial move connecting the automobile to the subject of the driver conflates the technical advance of motorized travel with the political element of individuality and freedom afforded by the possibility of driving.  Second, the duality of the mobile Mother draws a series of angles that are both political and technical: the extension of domesticity into specific public spheres through the operation of a vehicle, the intensification of motherhood brought on by the opportunities and limitations of the automobile, and the exclusion of certain groups of women from the question of how technology is deployed to promote or suppress feminism within the home.



Works Cited


Berlant, Lauren (1997).  The Queen of America Goes to Washington City.  Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Biesecker, Barbara (1992).  “Coming to Terms with Recent Attempts to Write Women Into the History of Rhetoric,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 25.

Black, Edwin (1970).  “The Second Persona.”  The Quarterly Journal of Speech, 56.  pp108-119.

Bourque, Susan & Grossholtz, Jean (1984).  “Politics an Unnatural Practice: Political Science Looks at Female Participation.”  In eds. Siltanen & Stanworth. Women and the Public Sphere.  London: Hutchinson, pp103-121.

Cowan, Ruth Schwartz (1983).  More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave.  New York: Basic Books.

Dow, Bonnie J. (1992).  “Femininity and Feminism in Murphy Brown,” Southern Communication Journal 57, pp143-155.

Dow, Bonnie J. (1997). “Feminism, Cultural Studies, and Rhetorical Studies,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 83, pp90-131.

Dunbar, Seymour (1915). A History of Travel in America.  Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Evans, Sara M. (1989).  Born for Liberty: A History of Women in America.  New York: The Free Press.

Flink, James J. (1988).  The Automobile Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Gaonkar, Dilip P. (1990). “Object and Method in Rhetorical Criticism: From Wichelns to Leff and McGee.”  Western Journal of Speech Communication, 54.  Summer, pp290-316.

Greene, Ronald Walter (1998a). “Another Materialist Rhetoric,” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 15, 21-41.

Griffin, Cindy (1993).  “Women as Communicators: Mary Daly’s Hagography as Rhetoric,” Communication Monographs 60, pp159-177.

Griffin, Cindy (1994).  “Rhetorizing Alienation: Mary Wollstonecraft and the Rhetorical Construction of Women’s Oppression,” Quarterly J. of Speech 80, pp293-312.

Haraway, Donna J. (1997).  Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan ã_Meets_OncoMouseä.  New York: Routledge Press.

Leavitt, Helen (1970).  Superhighway–Superhoax.  New York: Ballantine Books.

Margolis, Maxine L. (1984).  Mothers and Such: Views of American Women and Why They Changed.  Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

McShane, Clay (1997). The Automobile: A Chronology of Its Antecedents, Development, and Impact.  Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Morris, Meaghan (1993).  “Fear and the Family Sedan.” In ed. B. Massumi, The Politics of Everyday Fear.  Minneapolis, MN: U. Minnesota Press, pp285-306.

Pettifer, Julian & Turner, Nigel (1984).  Automania: Man and the Motor Car.  London: Collins.

Rose, Mark (1990).  Interstate: Express Highway Politics 1939-1989.  Knoxville: University of Tenn. Press.

Ryan, Mary P. (1975).  Womanhood in America: From Colonial Times to the Present.  New York: New Viewpoints.

Siltanen, Janet & Stanworth, Michelle (1984). “General Introduction.”  In eds. Siltanen & Stanworth. Women and the Public Sphere.  London: Hutchinson, pp11-16.

Wander, Philip (1984).  “The Third Persona.” Central States Speech Journal, 34. pp1-18.

Wright, Priscilla Hovey (1939). The Car Belongs to Mother.  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.


[1] In Indiana, for instance, highway lobbies went so far as to ask the legislature to return $14 million in previous diversions (Rose, 1990, p32).


[2]  In 1905, Mrs. C.C. Fitler drove to victory in an auto race attended by 20,000 spectators in Cape May, New Jersey.  In 1909, women were temporarily banned from racing by the American Automobile Association when another women, Joen Newton Cuneo, beat Ralph Dapalma in a New Orleans road race.  Also in 1909, Maxwell-Briscoe sponsored the first cross-country road trip by a woman driver, using the phrase “even a woman can drive” for publicity.


[3]  Bonnie Dow (1992, p155) grapples with these traits and asserts that “rhetoric needs to critically engage feminist theory.”  Her engagement produces the argument that we should study communication about women, not merely women who communicate.  Dow has a point, but it is Biesecker who pushes the edge by expanding the critique to include humanism and Western subjectivity.  According to Biesecker (1992, p147), we must consider the excess of the centered subject.  This move makes the feminine style more significant as an action (what are the effects of the feminine?).  It is actions that resist, not actors.  Cindy Griffin (1994, p306) notes that “patriarchy functions as a constitutive rhetoric that creates subjects as objects.”


[4] Again, this is not to say that the woman driver always assumed the identity of the domestic chauffeur, nor that the domestic chauffer always adopted the identity of Priscilla Wright’s lead character.  For Wright’s driver, for example, an inner conscience makes itself heard in order to convey an authenticity or wholeness in the mother that might be absent from the generalized driver.


[5] Some of the comparisons between the individual and the automobile blur together even further when the bodies of each face injury.  When the new family car finally escapes the overbearing scrutiny of the husband, the mother is compelled to protect its pristine condition.  Her concern over the automobile’s body is more than personifying, it is animating.  She cautiously takes the new car out on her own, fearful of a “third-degree scratch” that may be noticed: “Women can often conceal or disguise first- or second-degree scratches, but they can do little or nothing with a third-degree would or an actual disfiguring injury” (Wright, 1939, p69).


[6] Haraway joins Shulamith Firestone and others in her defense of selectively produced and applied technologies.


[7]  Betty Friedan’s landmark book, The Feminine Mystique (1963), marked the continued acceptance of domesticity and submissive roles by many married women, and Friedan’s critique of this passivity became “the first contemporary statement of female discontent and the founding document of the (contemporary) women’s movement” (Margolis, 1984, p5).


[8]  Margolis is more than aware of the shortcomings in an approach relying on prescriptive histories.  She (1984, p8)  raises many of these “unanswerable” questions herself: “Who bought these manuals and magazines?  Were they actually read?  And, if they were read, how seriously was their advice taken?  Did such advice affect the way middle class women saw themselves?”


[9]  Citing Black and Wander here helps to explain some of the issues surrounding the groups included and excluded from Wright’s audience.  Gaonkar (1990, p302-3) critiques the effects of Black’s and Wander’s frameworks, noting that Black’s emphasis on the critic as a “discloser” separates the critic from criticism and relegates the critical voice to the past, “a doctrinally dead discourse.”  Repeating the voices of the past in a pre-constructed moral framework is also a problem for Wander and his form of ideological criticism that threatens to erase the role of the specific intellectual in favor of training and becoming agitators.  The bottom line here is that rhetoric operates partially through an intersection of competing texts that are productive of, and created by, particular audiences.


A Conversation with James Mollison of Loyolla Marymount

Posted in College, Critical Issues in Debate, Podcasts, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2012 by Scott Odekirk

This edition of Critical Issues in Debate features one of the most prolific K debaters of the last decade. During this past season James Mollison, along with his partner Jack Ewing, earned the 3rd overall ranking at the end of the year, won tournaments, beat all the best, and blew minds. Scott Odekirk, the host, had a chance to work closely with LMU EM throughout the season so this conversation touches on LMU’s unique preparation process, their approach toward nationals, their entry of the DSRB Interview into the Semis of the NDT, and the general motivations of James when it comes to elite level debate competition. This conversation lightly touches on some mature subjects and uses adult language. This is one of the best interviews in the history of deb(k)ate’s interview project.

Play with audio player below or download this podcast by clicking this link:  mollison may 2012

James and Scott will be working together at the Xylum Debate Institute this summer. XDI is a unique debate camp focused on alternative and non traditional pedagogy with an eye toward using the K to defeat the very best. XDI is now accepting applications for their first ever session during the second week in August. Apply today and mention this podcast on your application!

Transportation Infrastructure Continued (Fordism Part II)

Posted in camp, High School, lectures with tags , , , on April 20, 2012 by kevin kuswa

Hi all,

Some requests came through for the second part of the Fordism work, originally published on Shared Sacrifice in Feb. 2009.  This part of the essay starts to link questions of transportation to the history of fossil fuels, oil, globalization, and eventually connects back to how we express ourselves through rhetoric.  Hopefully this helps to add some additional layers to the high school resolution–Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.   Transportation design is not simply about the state operating through an apparatus of capture on mobility, it is also about the core of circulation and what that means.  Here’s the essay followed by the footnotes and the citations.  Enjoy.

A Brief Genealogy of Fordism in Two Parts


Part Two: How the Flow and Constriction of Oil Stretch Into Globalization

Kevin Kuswa, 2009

America’s domestic energy situation–and the extent of U.S. dependence on imports–could be just as important, if not more important, in shaping the future political configurations in the Persian Gulf–and our future welfare–than direct security policies…The United States is, in effect, the Saudi Arabia of consumption.  It uses almost a third of all the oil consumed in the world every day.

Yergin, 1980, p16

On March 22, 1980, Harvard’s Center for International Affairs hosted a Symposium on the Dependence Dilemma as part of the International Energy Seminar.  Daniel Yergin, the Chairman of the Symposium, opened with a brief history of the energy crisis and an assessment of some of the consequences and possible solutions.  Yergin’s comments speak to the importance of oil, but more importantly to the flow of oil from producer states and the multinational oil companies to the consumers in the United States.  Yergin provides an opening for part two of this brief genealogy of Fordism, particularly through his explanation of the transportation sector in the United States and its dependence on oil.  In 1980, The United States consumed about one third of its oil in the form of gasoline and Yergin stresses that the consumption of gasoline in the U.S. exceeds the consumption of all petroleum-based products by any other single country.  Explained in another way: “One of every nine barrels of oil used in the world every day is burned as gasoline on American highways” (Yergin, 1980, p16).  Even assuming the desire to change, the transportation sector is heavily dependent on oil and gas relative to the rest of the economy and resistant to change.  Yergin’s (1980, p16) statement shores up the connection between American mobility and the flow of fuel: “The U.S. runs on gasoline; liquid fuels are the hub of the complex of issues known as the energy problem; yet transportation is also the consumption area where it is most difficult to substitute non-oil fuels.”

1. Capturing energy


In the first part of this paper, we left Fordism in the midst of a transformation, a crisis in the American industrial position relative to the nation-state and the global economy.  The process of “capture,” whereby a given institution or machinic arrangement attaches itself to the operations of a similar entity in a parasitic way, occurs through the trajectories of Fordism and the globalization of oil.  During the 1970s, the threats that oil represented, particularly in relation to American mobility, forced business interests and the government to take new forms and pursue new policies.  Partially a ramification of the surging highway, over-dependence on oil created new pressures on the economy and the state.  Again borrowing from Yergin (1980, p25), it had become obvious that the mobility afforded by the highway machine was increasingly reliant on oil from outside the United States: “We are a society that depends on a high degree of mobility.  Our over-dependence on an international energy system that is crisis-prone and accident-prone could create a crisis of mobility in this country in the 1980s.  Our over-dependence itself is a profound pressure on that system and, indeed, constitutes a threat to American security.”   The context of this crisis in mobility warrants elaboration.  Yergin links the highway to the motions of energy, but how did the events of 1973 intersect the operations of Fordism and transportation?  In a word, the condition of dependency linked the highway as a means of circulation to the constriction of access to inexpensive fuel.[1] (1)  The tightening oil market was tied to the rapidly expanding consumption of the U.S. transportation sector, but the movements were multidirectional: changes in energy policies and prices led to the retrenchment and containment of the highway machine as well.  Despite signs of retrenchment, however, the very size and daily operation of the interstate system ensured a constant need for millions and millions of barrels of oil.  All told, these competing motions in relation to the events of 1973 marked a final phase in the maturation of Fordism in this country.

The topic of dependency signaled two related motions: retrenchment and saturation.  Retrenchment began early in the 70s as the maintenance of the machine took priority over extension and new construction.  Particularly for the interstate, very few new miles were added after 1956 and most of the originally planned mileage was constructed by 1973.  As the highway consolidated and retrenched, Fordism was also reaching an impasse and a crisis of agency.  The motion of economic expansion and market saturation associated with oil and gas consumption hit a roadblock on October 17, 1973 when six Gulf oil states announced an increase in oil prices and a reduction in production.  Led by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, six members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) instituted an embargo on oil exports to the United States.  Speaking of the October 17th embargo, Benjamin Shwadran (1974, p79) noted at the time that “the producing countries have become dominant and powerful over the companies.”

If the link had not been established by 1973, politics and economics were intertwined together at that point through motions of stability and security surrounding oil.  Dramatic fluctuations in the oil market translated into dramatic upheavals and conflict between states and cultures.  The on-going conflict between Israel and the Arab states in the region has been well-documented, a conflict that intensified in 1973 and helped to precipitate the oil crisis.  The geopolitical importance of the region did not emerge exclusively out of religious struggles for territory and recognition, but much of the region’s fragility can be attributed to cultural tensions between groups of people such as those between “the original communities of mandated Palestine—the Arabs and the Jews” (El-Ayouty, 1974, p78).  Cultural discord occurs on many planes, not least of which is territory itself and the resources that can be extracted from it.  Moreover, land becomes more valuable when it is scarce, as does the oil beneath the land (Manoharan, 1974; Chomsky, 1993, p59).

The huge quantity of available oil in the Gulf combined with the voracious energy demands of the U.S. and other industrialized countries to heighten the need for stability.  The desire for a certain form of stability, regardless of the intent, did not ensure its presence–it may have even contributed to more tension and a more precarious situation as the region became more and more militarized.  The importance of oil in the Gulf established a link between domestic energy practices in the United States and the state-sponsored push for political, military and economic security abroad.  Oil and its finite nature created and magnified a crisis in the smooth operation of global markets, industrial manufacturing, and the expectations of many consumers.  Russell Stone (1977, p.xiv) commented on the severe price hikes of the fall of 1973: “The ensuing worldwide fuel shortage, regardless of price, lasted approximately five months.  Its memory and impact will last much longer throughout the world.”  The memory of the crisis notwithstanding, that five month period designated a transformation in a series of axes: capitalism, modernity, the state, Fordism, and the highway machine.  The Cold War had firmly implemented its logics of global security, a global relationship that easily transferred itself and took on new dimensions through the struggles over oil and land in the “Middle East.”[2] (2)

The energy crisis and its global ramifications, in part, centered on the region called the Middle East and the formation of OPEC.  Even though OPEC is often blamed for the events of 1973, OPEC’s existence may have actually delayed the political conditions necessary for an effective embargo and price hike.  OPEC itself was founded in 1960, but the contemplation of an organized pricing strategy may have begun earlier.  In 1952, the Arab League Political Committee “discussed petroleum as a weapon in the struggle with Israel” (Peretz, 1977, p21).[3](3)  The deployment of the “oil weapon” did not materialize until months after the Six-Day war of 1967 when, in January of 1968, a group of oil-producing countries in the Gulf decided to suppress oil sales to artificially raise the price.  Following the Six-Day war between Israel and a number of Arab states in the region, the “Arab petroleum ministers” decided to form “a unique Arab organization distinct from OPEC to develop their collective international political power” (Peretz, 1977, p21).  During the months immediately following the Six-Day war, the new sub-organization of OPEC refrained from instituting an oil embargo, choosing instead to collect short-term revenues for rebuilding efforts.  The need for short-term revenue was satisfied quickly, for this new oil alliance, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC), initiated the use of oil resources for political purposes in January of 1968.

Dr. Don Peretz, Professor of Political Science at SUNY-Binghamton, claims that the “political use of Arab oil” in 1968 was ineffective and may have contributed to lower revenues for the states involved.  The membership of OAPEC was not large enough at the time—missing “radical” nations such as Iraq, Syria, and Egypt until 1972—and the move was primarily an economic ploy by the conservative regimes governing Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya to use anti-Israel sentiment in the aftermath of the Six Day war as an opportunity to increase the market value of oil.  The action in 1968 was not comprehensive enough to prevent consumers from locating alternative oil supplies in the United States, Venezuela, and Iran.  The Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani stated later that year that the oil embargo “hurt the Arabs themselves more than anyone else, and the only ones to gain any benefit from it were the non-Arab producers” (Mikdashi, 1972, p85).  The Oil Minister’s comments pointed to a series of opposing interests that had converged in the oil arena: the pro-Arab vs. pro-Israel forces, the oil producers vs. the oil consumers, the Arab oil states vs. the non-Arab oil states, and the radical vs. the conservative oil regimes.  The ideological struggles for influence and resources are far from exhaustive in a diagram of the circulation of oil.

The circulation of oil and products had fully merged with the circulation of militarism and political influence, in no small part due to the consumptive tendencies set in motion by the growing highway infrastructure.  Reinforcing the breakdown of previously distinct arenas, Manoharan (1974, p83) noted that, “Oil itself is forged as a weapon to further political ends,” and The Economist (July 7, 1973) reported that the first concept to grasp about “the oil business is that it is more a political than an economic activity.”  Immediately preceding OPEC’s Oct. 17 announcement that an oil embargo had gone into effect, a few events took place which furthered the interplay between state-sponsored security and the energy market.  On October 6, 1973, as Israel prepared for Yom Kippur, President Sadat sent the Egyptian army across the Suez Canal and Syria attacked the Golan Heights in an attempt to win back land taken by Israel in the 1967 war.  Following Egypt’s raid on oil wells in the Sinai Peninsula and Israel’s attack on a Syrian oil refinery, Nixon contacted Brezhnev, the Soviet leader, to discuss the threat of war in the region (Manoharan, 1974, p76).  The United States and the Soviet Union attempted to broker peace through the United Nations, but their efforts were shallow and short-lived.  A cease-fire in one region precipitated the escalation of conflict in another.  By October 13th that year, Israel had surrendered to Egypt on the Sinai but the fighting between Israel and Syria over the Golan had re-ignited.  Meanwhile, Nixon began to lobby Congress for additional military aid to Israel.  The day after Nixon’s request, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Algeria suspended all oil exports to the U.S. and many other nations soon followed suit.

Even before OPEC’s announcement, Iraq deployed oil as a weapon by nationalizing Exxon and Mobil on October 7th, not to mention cutting off pipelines to the Mediterranean and reducing the flow of oil by over one million barrels a day.  According to Manoharan (1974, p86), Kuwait, Qatar and several other countries followed the lead of Iraq and Saudi Arabia by cutting production by 10 percent.  Within a few months the overall flow of oil from the Gulf region was reduced by almost 15 percent.  On October 16th, foreshadowing OPEC’s announcement the following day, the posted price of oil from the Gulf went up 70 percent.  As these moves continued to constrict the supply of oil, the full impact reached the United States in the form of higher fuel prices, long gas lines, and rapid inflation across the economy.  The Petroleum Economist (January, 1974, p143) commented that, “Consumers of oil must certainly accept the fact that OPEC has now evolved into what is probably the toughest cartel the world has ever known” and that this cartel has “the power to restrict supplies and hold the consumer to ransom.”

To emphasize his claim that the U.S. had become hostage to “foreign oil,” Yergin offers a laundry-list of potential threats including drop-offs in domestic production, supply interruption, political alliances hostile to the United States, regime changes, and even Soviet collusion.  In sum, Yergin (1980, p18) proclaims: “This over-dependence puts the United States into a position where it could be drawn into the vortex of a crisis with little choice or little maneuverability.”  The vortex requires mapping, though, for the flow of oil involves many diverse channels.  To begin, who is being referred to when Yergin or someone like him talks about the “United States,” the American consumer,” or “our interests and security”?  What are these monolithic interests?  Is oil really a question of “us” vs. “them”?  Fordism takes on nationalistic tendencies in many ways during the second half of the century, not least of which was the dominance of the source of fuel over the highway infrastructure itself.

Milton Moskowitz, founder of Business & Society in 1968, asks the same questions in a short article published a few months after the October oil embargo.  Moskowitz claims to “have trouble these days with the pronoun ‘we’” in the context of the energy crisis.  Moskowitz’s (1974, p14) read on the depictions of the energy crisis at the time is that the “Arabs are clearly not part of ‘we’” because the crisis itself was “apparently touched off by the Arab world’s decision to play politics with the oil in the ground.”  And, in opposition to these Arabs, Moskowitz (1974, p140 senses a collective “we” on the other side of the crisis that includes “virtually everyone else—President Nixon, the home owner that heats with oil, Exxon, anyone who drives a car, British Petroleum, the ordinary investor, Texaco, the airlines….”  Moskowitz makes the point that the common interests contained in “we” are actually diverse and complex, made up of Texas drillers, domestic consumers, industrial producers, oil lobbyists, and so forth.  As Moskowitz (1974, p15) cynically remarks: “The energy crisis has affected a miraculous transformation….The oil industry program has become ‘our’ program.  What they want, ‘we’ must obviously want.  ‘We’ are all in the same boat, right?”

Taking Moskowitz’s critique of the all-purpose “we” into account, he helps to show how these exchanges are often personified, as are the interests of the corporations and the governments.  The Seven Sisters are but one example, the name given to the seven largest multinational oil companies.  Five of the companies started in the United States—Exxon, Texaco, Mobil, Gulf, and Standard Oil—and the other two from Europe—British Petroleum and Royal Dutch Shell.  All seven share sisterhood, though, because of their monopolistic control over the exploration, extraction, transportation, refining, and distribution of most of the world’s known oil reserves.  As multinational companies, their operations have diverged from the political interests of any individual government or set of consumers.  The personification of multinational corporations like the Seven Sisters leads back to the question concerning agency and interests.  Should individual consumers of oil, even American consumers, be considered a single entity?  What are the effects of dividing producer states into those who support the West and those who do not?  Does America have one set of interests in the energy crisis?

If certain companies have interests that are at odds with the governments they operate within, it becomes doubly important to scrutinize any representation of the energy crisis as an “us vs. them” scenario or a bipolar contest between those with oil and those who wish to purchase the oil.  Yergin relies on an oppositional frame, for instance, constituting “us” as a unified collection of reasonable Americans trying to maintain security for our energy needs.  Yergin reminded “us” that the two oil shocks that took place between 1973 and 1980 may have shattered our sense of invulnerability, but “we have hardly begun to take those steps that are so manifestly in our own interest, and indeed required in the name of elemental self-preservation” (Yergin, 1980, p25) such as pursuing conservation practices on a national level.  Representative Les Aspin (1974, p210), a democrat from Wisconsin, also depicted the crisis in such a bipolar way: “In the final analysis, Congress and the American people are left with only one choice if we are to solve the energy crisis: the excessive political power of the companies must be brought under control.”  Who does “we” refer to in Aspin’s remark?  What does the imaginary of this “we” do to frame the energy crisis in a certain way?  Indeed, who is having the oil crisis?  Who is hosting it?  And, most importantly, what are the effects of its deployment and exploitation?

2. Fordism and the State 


An important moment that becomes more pronounced during the events of 1973 involves the transformation from Fordism to globalization.  Because Fordism remained an industrial arrangement tied to the automobile as the basis for mass production, it reached an end-point (or transitional moment) as the post World War II military complex and federal control of highway funding combined to capture certain economic and military logics for the state.  Certainly a number of components of Fordism infiltrated other industries and managed to find a niche for themselves alongside the apparatus of the state.  The corporate quest for growing markets and a new manufacturing structure also intensified as labor and the production process became more integrated.  Many contradictory motions pushed corporate entities in diffuse and uncertain directions—a capitalism contingent on political maneuvering, state diplomacy, and a constantly shifting set of market parameters.  The Cold War and its ensuing global chess game for influence also fueled the expansion of the state and the reach of government institutions, whether those institutions exerted themselves in the name of democracy or communism.

By 1973, corporations are experiencing distinct transformations: they are breaking away from the state by creating new profit structures and diversifying across borders to take advantage of abundant labor and tax incentives wherever they may be located, and they are incorporating themselves into the state or subordinating their operations to the regulations and policies imposed by the state.  Barlett and Steele lay out both of these transformations in succinct fashion.  They talk about the expansion of the corporate scope by reducing the United States to one of the objects of the large energy conglomerates: “In this period, the United States became merely another customer of the American multinational oil companies which supply most of the free world’s oil” (Barlett & Steele, 1974, p332).  Barlett and Steele (1974, p333) also talk about the state’s use of the energy crisis to further political aims and attach themselves to business lobbies: “The Administration has consistently overdramatized the extent of the shortage and helped create much of the panic seen today at the gas pump.”  It was ultimately the war and the oil embargo of 1973 that catapulted both of these capturing motions to the forefront.  Once again, the motions of Fordism helped to generate a multi-dimensional effect.

The oil effects of the highway machine were analogous to the duality of the freedom of driving and the immobility (including mortality) of the car crash.  The crash on the oil front, however, was global and all-encompassing.  With vehicles and their passengers, the repetition and seriality of the car crash are its biggest threat—the inevitability of a certain percentage of accidents occurring on the highway each and every day.  With the oil crash, on the other hand, the regularity of price and supply shocks was not as significant as the sudden rupture in October of 1973.  As landmines are to an atomic bomb, so is the car crash to the oil crisis.  All four are crippling and destructive, but landmines and car accidents are insidious and relentless while atomic bombs and large oil shocks are quick and total.  The speed and scope of the energy crisis forced swift responses from the state and corporations.  Having captured militarism in the name of nationalism (and atomic weaponry), the state deployed its military to protect its security.  Having captured the state in the name of economic growth, corporate interests capitalized on the crisis by dodging taxation schemes and passing on higher prices to addicted consumers.

Clay Steinman and Robert Entman add contours to corporate lines of flight that have attached themselves to the flow of oil.  Steinman and Entman, political science scholars, published a short article in the January 26, 1974 edition of The Nation that outlines the oil hegemony of the multinational corporations entitled “The Sovereign State of Oil.”  Referencing the advent of joint ventures throughout the 1960s and 70s, Steinman and Entman (1974, p111) contend that joint ventures have allowed interlocking directorates, exchanges of information, production planning, “and perhaps a general forum in which a climate of unanimity with respect to such problems as scarcity, prices, political associations and other pertinent affairs can be developed.”  Calling these monolithic oil companies the “energy conglomerates,” Steinman and Entman (1974, p111), “have awesome power, whether it be the power to create shortages for their own private ends or the power to alleviate them through their own private efforts.”  A certain move foreshadowed and permitted the hegemony of the energy conglomerates: curtailing domestic refining efforts and aligning themselves with political interests and institutions responsible for energy policy.

The slowing down of domestic refining and the expansion of refining efforts outside the United States contributed to the dominance of the energy conglomerates as a whole.  American companies had already become multinational, allowing shifts to take place in response to U.S. regulations and trade policies.  Steinman and Entman (1974, p112) cite this flexibility as a source of power and resilience for the energy conglomerates: “The crisscross concentration of cooperative power in the oil industry seems undeniable.”  The point here, and the necessity of tracing this articulation of the sovereignty of oil, is that the motion of capture is never uni-directional.  The two poles of public and private (or statist and corporate) constantly work together.  The circulation that has arisen through the energy crisis revolves around the interactions between a regulatory government wielding a military for enforcement and the capital concentration inherent in the large oil companies.  From one angle, that presented by Steinman and Entman (1974, p114), the need for secure energy supplies (to fuel the highway machine, the economy, and the military in the United States) made Congress a mere foot soldier in the service of the oil companies:



“Thus the independent power that seems to have accrued in America to capital concentration and technological expertise may have rendered independent, regulatory government a civics-book illusion.  Congress holds hearings, but otherwise it seems ineffectual in the energy arena.  The Administration is closely allied with oil interests, and no previous administration could accurately be called anti-oil.  Judicial remedies seem unlikely.”

This motion encouraged the movement of refining operations outside of the United States to circumvent the embargo.  From the opposite angle, political pressures were responsible for state actions that defied and contained the free reign of the oil companies.

Positioning and posturing between Israel, the United States, the Soviet Union, the Palestinians, and the Arab countries adjacent to Israel put new spins on the circulation of oil.  The Palestinian quest for legitimacy gave the United States the opportunity to both express support for Israel and to broker negotiations between the two sides.  And, by 1974, the United States started to “mobilize all its resources to find alternatives to Middle East oil” (Shwadran, 1974, p81).  It took time to develop viable alternatives, but the United States purchased oil from many sources as well as having access to fairly large domestic wells.  The U.S. government aligned with corporate forces in the energy arena in a more concerted attempt to find new sources of oil as well as encouraging the expansion of coal-based generation for electricity and providing minor subsidies for energy sources other than fossil fuels (solar, geothermal).

From 1956 to 1973, the highway and Fordism rolled along while the government focused on construction of state-of-the-art roads at the expense of a flexible energy sector.  Even though the energy crisis had been forecast for years (Shwadran, 1974, p81), no directed state action was taken: “The United States government was perhaps lulled into inaction and false security by the international oil companies and by its own ideological unwillingness to interfere with private enterprise.”  Soon after 1973, Nixon tapped the Highway Trust Fund for mass transit and conservation became a national goal, exemplified by the speed limit reduction and the removal of daylight savings.  The events of 1956 and 1973 are merely guideposts, for the practice of genealogy does not obsess over origins and conclusions as much as it brings together certain events and arrangements.  As Foucault (1984, p81) writes, “Genealogy does not resemble the evolution of a species and does not map the destiny of a people.”[4] (4)

3. From Fordism to globalization

Henry Ford’s purposes, desires and hopes relied on a new industrialized city that would bring workers to the factories and prime the economy for individual ownership of automobiles.  In 1908, the Model T had to cater to the demands of a rural population, but Ford secretly “looked forward to the demise of the family farm” (Flink, 1988, p114) and the fundamental principles of Fordism depended on a steady demand from the largest sector of the American population: the lower and middle classes in urban areas.  An ever-expanding assembly-line that emphasized uniformity and affordable production needed a broad-based market of consumers with disposable income.  In many ways, the circle completes itself as it struggles through energy supply to land back in the US, but with global tendencies—an ever-expanding structure of Empire.  The year 1973 marked the first major oil shock, the completion of over 80 percent of the Interstate (and the initiation of 16 percent more, leaving only a few hundred miles to be completed in the 1980s and 90s), the imposition of a 55-mph speed limit across the nation’s expressways, and the first diversion of funds from the Highway Trust Fund into intra-urban transit by Richard Nixon on August 13th (Flink, 1988, p372).  Nevertheless, Fordist market expansion carried with it new and intricate connections to the state: “Unlimited accommodation to mass personal automobility ended as government came to recognize automotive safety, pollution, and energy consumption as major social problems and consequently to regulate the automobile industry and to invest in mass transit” Flink (1988, p408).

U.S. dependence on oil combined with U.S. aid to Israel in the Yom Kippur War to encourage many of the Persian Gulf states to restrict and even prohibit the flow of oil to the U.S. (McShane, 1997, p136).  The 1970s and 80s balanced concerns over energy security and automobile safety with new machinic arrangements stretching into the 90s and beyond.[5] (5) Oil and gas became crucial commodities to the stability of global capitalism, fed by both the demand for more and more fossil fuels in the U.S. and the willingness of the American military machine to defend the corridors and pipelines of the market’s precious “black gold.”   The key transformation from Fordism to globalization is global production and consumption.

In addition to connecting the transportation sector in the United States to the inelasticity of the global oil market, Yergin also attaches the security of the U.S. and its foreign policy as a whole to over-dependence on imported oil.  Once more we borrow from Yergin (1980, p15) and an argument enmeshed in the knowledge formation between energy security and international relations:

“The United States finds itself increasingly challenged in the world today.  Its foreign policy is constrained, its influence and security position eroding, its economy vulnerable, its alliance relations under pressure.  Among the important reasons–perhaps even the most important–is the over-dependence on insecure imported oil.  The reverberations of this over-dependence are directly felt in American foreign policy and throughout the economic and political system.  Thus, there is a fundamental relation between America’s problems in the world, and how 140 million vehicles are used on the nation’s roads and highways.”

The turn that occurs here, and one that penetrates the subjects, places, and motions of the highway during this period, is conservation.  Cars become smaller and more fuel efficient as alternative modes of transportation become more attractive.  From Yergin’s quotation and the explicit link between the operation of cars in the United States and a global regime of security designed to protect the flow of oil, the issue of globalization attaches itself to circulation.  The circulation of energy resources, particularly the global nature of the oil market, resulted in an association between capitalism and the modernization of a global economy.  It is important to note that we have two notions of globalization at work here: the globalization of rhetoric and the globalization of capital and state-protected markets.  Although not intended by either use of the term, the two relate to one another in some interesting ways.

One sense of globalization refers to the expansion of rhetoric’s scope or object of analysis to a global or universal level.  Appearing as the counterpart to the trap of representation where rhetoric is limited to a descriptive or peripheral role in relation to a pre-conceived ideology, reality, or similar non-rhetorical structure; globalization marks rhetoric as all-encompassing and beyond explanatory or analytical value.  Positioned opposite to the quandary of representation and the dependence of rhetoric on that which it represents, the globalization of rhetoric gives such range to itself that it cannot account for its outside or the elements that might be external to a regime of signs.  In other words, the globalization turn accounts for the circulation of rhetoric in such a way that it becomes difficult to talk about elements that may produce specific manifestations of rhetoric or the effects of a given instance of rhetoric without simultaneously theorizing those elements and those effects as themselves examples of rhetoric.  Because rhetoric explains circulation and everything is circulating, it is argued, the analytical grip of rhetoric can assert itself regardless of the uniqueness of the machine or the object in question.

Gaonkar talks about the globalization of rhetoric in terms of the slow dissolution of the object of rhetorical criticism.  This occurs when all objects are distanced from the act of criticism in the same way, making the object peripheral to the process of interpretation and devaluing the distinct “performative dimensions” that circulate in tandem with the “materiality or everydayness of practical discourse” (Gaonkar, 1990, p308).  Despite various attempts to recover or rescue the object by returning to a “close” or “disciplined” reading of a given text, the tendency toward globalization in rhetoric has been sweeping.  Few theorists take on expansive objects, and even fewer theories will chart the specific ways that an object, machine, or even text moves in rhetorical and non-rhetorical ways.  For Gaonkar (1990, p308), the danger of such globalization is that the object will disintegrate into fragments, leaving only the hegemonic practices of interpretation: “The dissolution continues…as the object is globalized into a message fragment.”

In addition, the effects and residual products of the machine circulate through its regime of signs, but may not always manifest as subjectivities and may not be rooted exclusively in discursive formations.  A preference for specificity, once again, draws attention to the role of circulation in the debate over rhetoric’s globalization.  To avoid the use of circulation as a mechanism for the globalization of rhetoric, the movement of a given regime of signs should be mapped as circulating as well as penetrating.  Penetration expresses that motion is not always freely circulating and that the unwanted extension of markets may be distinct from an organic model of a circulatory system.  The channeling of capitalism may be relatively smooth and organic, yet its effects are wounding and insidiously penetrating: “A focus on circulation shows us the movement of people, things, ideas, or institutions, but it does not show us how this movement depends on defining tracks and grounds or scales and units of agency” (Tsing, 2000, p337).  The notion of exchange, central to communication as well as capitalism, links the process of circulation to the condition of globalization.  Tempering both circulation and globalization (and offering a solution to the globalization of rhetoric’s domain of objects) must be the association of constraint and limitation with circulation as well as the association of segregation and corporate oppression with globalization.

Arguing that the term comes to mean many things, Tsing (2000, p331) states: “globalization came to mean an endorsement of international free trade and the outlawing of protected or public domestic economies.”  As a conduit for globalization, then, Fordism expanded through the promise of unrestricted mobility and free access, paving over local “highway markets” and toll-ways in favor of a national (global) machine.  Anna Tsing talks about globalization in terms of planetary interconnections, linkages that can further exploitation and inequality as well as linkages that can open up possibilities of globalist wishes and fantasies.  For Tsing (2000, p331), the process of invoking the global turn “is to call attention to the speed and density of interconnections among people and places.”  For example, it is important to note how people and places were shaped and influenced by the aftermath of Fordism as a manufacturing process that united with a specific form of social organization programmed by the state and the state’s military needs.  It is also crucial to mark the flow of energy resources as a corollary to the flow of goods and services led by American consumers and the highway machine—a process in place across the world by the end of the 1970s.

Circulation itself must share the stage with temporality and spatiality.[6] (6) McKenzie Wark helps to tie together the motions of globalization by defining our terrain as the “place where we sleep, work, or hang-out” (1994, p1).  Similar to Morse’s (1990) idea of distraction and “distractedness” as an ontology for everyday life, Wark traces various forms of circulation in the directed movement of people, places, ideas, institutions, and forces.  The drive-ins, quickie marts, truck-stops, and other roadside hang-outs are only one plane of the terrain.  Those places are now being forced to share terrain with the flow and timing of images:

“We live every day in another terrain, equally familiar: the terrain created by the television, the telephone, the telecommunications networks crisscrossing the globe…This virtual geography is no more or less ‘real.”  It is a different kind of perception, of things not bounded by rules of proximity, of “being there.” (Wark, 1994, p1)”

First, the separation is only partial, for any light of flight (site of virtual experience) must be grounded or located.  Second, the virtual is limited by access and the restriction of particular flows (energy, transport, etc.).  As with Fordism and the highway machine, the motion of freely circulating people or products is always mediating by competing motions of state security and economic exchange.

Providing a transition, the motion of circulation creates interconnections and “interconnection is everything in the new globalisms” (Tsing, 2000, p336).  Rhetoric assists in the meeting points on either end of circulation, in both coercive and liberating ways.  Thus, we can map the ways that globalization itself enters modes of circulation.  The motions of globalization, for Tsing (2000, p336), are rhetorical because “global rhetoric” relies on circulation in the same way capitalism relies on penetration: “the way powerful institutions and ideas spread geographically and come to have an influence in distant places.”  This means that Fordism can uniquely point to the boundaries of rhetoric’s circulation by diagramming the object of a flow as well as the social conditions “that allow or encourage that flow” (Tsing, 2000, p337).  Certainly by linking globalization and circulation, we can add the angle of penetration, not to mention the critique of “the use of the rhetoric of circulation as a ruling image for global interconnections” (Tsing, 2000, p337).  If we do want to trace Fordism to the globalization of rhetoric and the globalization of capital, the arresting and releasing sides of circulation fashion a middle-ground that must be negotiated.  Movement and the energy required to fulfill that movement are both irresistible magnets for the apparati of state control and capital expansion, both linked to each other through this brief genealogy of Fordism through globalization.

[1] (1) Dependency, in this context, references the extreme reliance on external sources for oil, effectively making the U.S. dependent on other nations for energy resources.  The other trajectory of dependency, making it a multi-faceted trope, is the reliance of “lesser developed” or developing countries on the industrialized or developed countries for capital, equipment, and many consumer goods.  These relations of dependency between the “West and Arab oil-producing countries” allowed the industrialized states “to have control over the nature of the dependent countries’ policies, to the extent that the dependent country cannot regulate its political actors or develop legitimate political institutions capable of making independent domestic and international policies” (Raoof, 1977, p212).

[2]   (2) The narrative of struggle and colonialism is not endemic to oil.  The phrase “middle east” designates a Western cartography of imperialism that must be associated with the history of the region.  American naval officer and historian Alfred Thayer Mahan adopted the phrase “Middle East” in 1902 to designate the territory between Arabia and India (B. Lewis, 1966, p9).  Fromkin (1989, p18) contends that the wartime negotiations conducted during 1922 were the origins of “frontier drawing” in the Middle East.  This cluster of events includes the Allenby Declaration defining limited independence for Egypt, the Churchill White Paper laying the groundwork for Israel and Jordan, the British treaties establishing the status of Iraq, the French Mandate for Lebanon and Syria, and Russian rule over Moslem Central Asia.

Labeling these struggles for control “the Great Game,” Fromkin (1989, p16) conceives of the Middle East as “the entire arena in which Britain, from the Napoleonic Wars onward, fought to shield the road to India from the onslaughts” of other colonial powers.  During the period of parcelization, when European states found it necessary to re-draw the borders of the region, Sir Mark Sykes, a self-proclaimed expert on the “Problem of the Near East,” spent a good deal of time “making public speeches in which he gave currency to the new descriptive phrase, ‘the Middle East’” (Fromkin, 1989, p224).  In sum, one of Fromkin’s subtitles, “The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East,” details the history of European colonialism surrounding the so-called Middle East and the ways many of those territories were shaped by Britain, France, and Russia in competition for influence.

[3] (3) Another restriction on petroleum took place as a result of the 1956 Suez war when Great Britain and France suffered severe hardship.  The shut-off of petroleum was not a deliberate embargo by particular Arab countries as much as it was a consequence resulting from the damage done to the Suez canal during the course of the conflict.

[4] (4) “Ideal significations and indefinite teleologies” are the tools of the nation-state–companions of an obsessive search for origins that loses value as a critique.  As part of a critical reading of Nietzsche’s discussion of origin (Ursprung), Foucault (1984, p81) urges a rethinking of the linear model of history:

“From the vantage point of an absolute distance, free from the restraints of positive knowledge, the origin makes possible a field of knowledge whose function is to recover it, but always in a false recognition due to the excesses of its own speech.  The origin lies at a place of inevitable loss, the point where the truth of things corresponded to a truthful discourse, the site of a fleeting articulation that discourse has obscured and finally lost.”

[5] (5) Meanwhile, commuters and suburbanites moved further into the flows of globalization and the instantaneous circulation of data while populating edge cities, gated communities, and gentrified urban condominiums.

[6] (6) A number of authors align with Virilio in his distinction between spatial and temporal discourses (E. Hall, 1982; Castells, 1991; Wark, 1994; Soja, 1996).