Sport/utility vehicles as technologies of the suburban self: The only civilized way to leave civilization

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Virginia Tech

The purpose of this thesis is to explore the transactional and transformative relationships between automobiles and their owners/drivers. Using the sport/utility vehicle as a case study, I show how both the automobile and its user go through transformations of meaning. These transformations take place on a number of levels. The one that I am most concerned with is how the sport/utility vehicle changes the owner's conception of his or her identity.

To elucidate these relationships, I appropriate Michel Foucault's concept of "technologies of the self". I use C. S. Peirce's work on the theory of signs, in conjunction with the work of several other pragmatists (including John Dewey, G. H. Mead, and Joseph Pitt) to fill out this Foucaultian idea. This forms the theoretical core of my essay. I go on to analyze the historical formation of the sport/utility vehicle, beginning in World War II through the present. I then bring together the history and my theoretical perspective. In this analysis we find that the sport/utility vehicle is a way for middle-class suburbanites to transform themselves in world they perceive as increasingly dangerous.

automobiles, semiotics, philosophy of technology, Popular culture