Rebels, nanas, and fitness freaks: How the social meanings around transport consumption influence everyday transport practices (16465)
In 2003, Homer Simpson declared ‘Public transportation is for jerks and lesbians’ (Season 14, Episode 20). Homer’s statement is unusually blunt, but he is far from being alone in linking particular kinds of people and particular kinds of transport. Popular stereotypes insist that rebels ride motorbikes, ‘nanas’ drive cars described as ‘shopping trolleys’, and a person on a bicycle is probably a fitness freak. The research described in this paper focuses on exploring the social meanings (including stereotypes) that link different kinds of people and different kinds of transport in Christchurch, New Zealand. Particularly, the research investigates whether people’s transport practices are influenced by social meanings. The study draws on focus groups, daily travel diaries, and interviews. It demonstrates that the social meanings associated with the material features of transport (particularly vehicles and clothing) influence everyday practices. Participants describe how social meanings influence the travel modes they choose (car, bike, bus etc.), the different vehicles they buy, the ways they consciously moderate their travel behaviour to counteract stereotypes, the ways other people treat them differently when their travel associates them with different social groups, and the strategies they employ to reduce their conspicuousness when they might be associated with undesirable meanings. In this paper I detail participants’ responses to social meanings associated with transport, and discuss the role of social meanings in the broader context of influences on transport practices.