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The Road -- ­A Meeting Place

01.12.2006
We have all traveled on roads. A road may be a way to get from A to B or it may be an adventure. The interaction along our roads has now been mapped, and one of the conclusions is that the road is used in a way that makes it similar to a local newspaper.

In his dissertation in sociology at Göteborg University in Sweden Daniel, Normark has studied the social interactions that take place along our roads. He has traveled thousands of miles around Sweden and photographed illegal road signs that people put up, to show that they exist, to offer goods for sale, leave political messages, or in other ways inform drivers and others about something they think is important.

He has also interviewed some of the people behind the signs.

What's more, he worked at a gas station for a few months to gain insights into how Swedish gas stations contribute to the mobility we associate with the road and how they affect people on the move.

He traveled by bus for six weeks to study the social interaction of bus drivers, how they meet along roads and at bus stops, and how the road itself is a resource for relating to other people and to the job.

Daniel Normark's dissertation shows that the road is a place for encounters between those traveling them and those who live and work along them. They are a natural part of our use of roads.

Alongside roads we encounter traffic signs, road signs, symbols, placards, and advertising that remind us how we should relate to each other. In studying these expressions Daniel Normark formed an alternative perspective on how roads can be understood.

Traditionally, roads are seen as infrastructure, but Normark establishes in his dissertation that they are more similar to a local newspaper or the Internet than to a power grid.

In other words, we can choose to apprehend roads as 'media,' a word that in an everyday sense has come to be synonymous with the mass media and mass communication, that is, how images, facts, opinions, information, and other expressions are disseminated via newspapers, TV, movies, the Internet, books, etc. Local newspapers have notices about one-off auctions, for instance, just like placards we see along the roadside.

The business hours of stores can be read in a newspaper ad or on a sign by the road.

The Family page in newspapers posts birthdays and deaths, but such information is sometimes seen along the road in the form of flowers, candles, or hand-painted signs.

In other words, the road has become a forum for people to express themselves and reach out with their message to anybody who travels that particular stretch for whatever reason.

It presents a fascinating environment to study in the subject of sociology, to learn more about the interaction that manifestly takes place there.

Title of dissertation: Enacting Mobility: Studies into the Nature of Road-related Social Interaction

Author of dissertation: Daniel Normark, phone: +46 18-52 56 30 (home); cell phone: +46 702-48 59 49; e-mail: daniel.normark@sts.gu.se

Eva Lundgren | idw
Further information:
http://www.vr.se

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