The influences of social meanings on everyday transport practices
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Transport is a fundamental component of our everyday lives, integral to almost everything we do. Accordingly, our transport practices have wide ranging implications. The ways in which people travel are most often described as being guided by instrumental considerations such as time, cost, and convenience. Yet travel is also influenced by cultural considerations such as social meanings--including social norms and stereotypes. This thesis focuses on improving understandings of the influences of social meanings, and as such explores some of the least well understood influences on transport practices. The research has three core goals: 1) to explore the social meanings associated with transport in Christchurch, New Zealand, 2) to investigate the influences these social meanings have on transport practices, and 3) to identify some key theoretical debates and positions that can help us to understand how social meanings influence transport practices. The thesis draws on empirical data collected through in-depth engagement with 32 research participants. Most participants attended a focus group, completed a qualitative travel diary, and participated in an individual interview. A wide range of social meanings influenced participants' transport practices. Meanings associated with status, accomplishment, gender, clothing, risk, rebellion, poverty, health, environment, age, body shape, and more, influenced practices of driving, cycling, motorcycling, walking, and bus use. Social meanings influenced participants in three main ways. They influenced participants' use of different transport modes, choices of vehicles, and performances of travel. Over 90% of participants reported that their transport practices were influenced by social meanings to some extent; over 70% reported that social meanings were a major influence on their use of at least one mode of transport; and 20% of participants reported that social meanings were a major influence on their transport practices overall. Reviewing the findings in light of ongoing conceptual debates helped to develop explanations of the influences of social meanings on transport practices. Considering whether participants were influenced by social meanings through conscious or non-conscious pathways helped shed light on some influences. Particularly, participants appeared to reject bus use without being conscious of doing so; the concept of habitus helped to reveal and explain this phenomenon. Likewise, reviewing the direct and indirect structuring influences of social norms was enlightening. Social norms directly help to reproduce existing practices, but they also influence the development of infrastructure, laws, and material goods, all of which also help to reproduce stability in transport practices over time. Further, reviewing theories of intergroup relations drew attention to subtle variations in the ways participants travelled; such as parking a car so as to obscure a dent from view. Participants used these variations to manage the negative perceptions of others, and to reinforce their positions in social groups or hierarchies. This research has implications for future research and policy. It highlights the importance of social meanings and demonstrates that social meanings could usefully inform transport strategies. For example, understanding social meanings could facilitate effective interventions to encourage the use of fuel efficient cars or of public transport, to manage tensions between different groups of road users, and to improve road user safety training.