Why We Still Own Cars: An Ethnographic Case Study of Car Ownership and Use in Ottawa

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Hale, Tyler




This dissertation comprises the results of a two year-long ethnographic study of car ownership and use in Ottawa, Canada. Based on interviews and observational data from thirty-two participants, this study aims present a profile of Ottawa residents' relationships to cars by providing an interpretation of cultural meanings and practices surrounding car ownership in a primarily urban setting. Building on literature from a variety of sources within anthropology and sociology, the major findings of this dissertation are broken into five interrelated chapters covering the diverse meanings and practices which construct car ownership as a necessary part of everyday life in Ottawa: 1) having a car is a response to the affordances of the built environment of Ottawa, 2) it means experiencing a desirable body; 3) it means having the human capital to realize complete flexibility and independence in one's economic and social pursuits; 4) it means being able to configure social relationships with transcendent cultural values and through the deployment of space and distance; 5) it means articulating autonomous politics and making sense of the interconnections between competing and complementary ideologies (such as freedom, independence, capitalism, family, work, able-bodiedness, modernity, and sustainability) which develop and change through everyday engagements with cars. In the final chapter of this dissertation, several questions are raised to prompt designers, social scientists, city planners, and citizens to think about how they might contribute to a popular shift towards a new kind of relationship to cars: one which is characterized by intentionality and choice, rather than by feelings of necessity.


Cultural Anthropology
Urban and Regional Planning




Carleton University

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Theses and Dissertations

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