On Men and Cars : An Ethnographic Study of Gendered, Risky and Dangerous Relations

Abstract: It is well known that young men constitute a high-risk group in terms of accidents involving both themselves and others. But comparatively little is known about the roles of gender, masculinity and automobility in reproducing or subverting such particularly risky performances of identity. The study aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of how gender, primarily masculinity, is interrelated with car-related identities, practices and material constructions. Contributing with qualitative insights, this study explores the ways in which gendered individuals and cars co-constitute one another in a particular context, the community of Swedish car modifiers. By using an ethnographic approach, this thesis investigates the lives of young and middle-aged car enthusiasts who invest considerable time, money, skill and passion in modifying, showing and driving their cars. The material stems from fieldwork carried out at car shows, in cars, on online modified-car forums and in garages between 2006 and 2008. In total, 53 men and 14 women between the ages of 19 and 60 make up the informants.The study shows how gender, in particular masculinity, is reproduced and negotiated in the modifiers’ attempts to become “unique” subjects through making their own versions of the car. Cars are not only a means of self-expression and constructing identity, but serve to build community and regulate relations between, primarily, men through competition at car shows and when driving. The study examines the reproduction of craftsmanship as a purified ideal that distinguishes car modifiers as a “special kind” of men, a figure that takes its form through intersecting imaginaries of Swedishness, class and masculinity. To rely on one’s own ideas and hands represented a more authentic way of creating one’s dream car in a heavily commercialised culture. Constructions of masculinity in driving are explored in its profoundly embodied, emotional and dangerous aspects developed in the context of men, cars and risk-taking. The personalised car is shown to generate different forms of risk-taking, which are also productive of counter-discourses on dangerous and risky driving.