Car dependence as a relevant concept for sociology: future generations, equity and the transport policy stalemate

Giulio Mattioli

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


The seemingly unstoppable rise in levels of car ownership and use is a phenomenon that calls for better understanding on the part of sociology. Indeed, on one hand it contributes to two global issues that will impact disproportionately on future generations: oil depletion and climate change. On the other hand, it entails a crucial (intra-generational) equity dimension, related to the differential in accessibility to services and opportunities between car users and non-car users. In this paper, I argue that the very nature of car dependence – here defined as a dynamic and self-reinforcing macro-social process with systemic properties, that strongly resists any attempt to induce change despite increasing awareness of its negative externalities – urges scholars to focus on the trade-offs between intra- and inter-generational equity. This kind of analysis shows that while the implications of ever-increasing car dependence for intra-generational equity are very equivocal, most of the policies envisaged to stop it are feared to have negative impacts on intra-generational equity, and thus often meet strong resistance. This is likely to bring to a “transport policy stalemate”, where no serious attempt is made to reduce car use and all hopes are concentrated on a “technological fix” to eventually solve all problems. I conclude that these contradictions are arguably a defining feature of car dependence, one of its main drivers and an important reason for its path-dependent nature. In this context, research questions focused on the margins of the car system, and notably on carless households, are of great interest
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2011
EventLancaster Sociology Summer Conference 2011 - Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Jul 20115 Jul 2011


ConferenceLancaster Sociology Summer Conference 2011
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • car dependence
  • sustainable transport
  • transport policy
  • sustainability
  • intergenerational equity
  • transport and social exclusion
  • transport disadvantage


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