British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access

Drive: Journeys through Film, Cities and Landscapes

IMBOR56About the Author: Iain Borden is Professor of Architecture and Urban Culture at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, where he is also Vice-Dean for Communications for the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, having previously served as Director and Head of the Bartlett School of Architecture from 2001-09. Previous publications include: Bartlett Designs: Speculating With Architecture (Wiley, 2009); Beyond Space: the Ideas of Henri Lefebvre in Relation to Architecture and Cities. Journal of Chinese Urban Science, 3 (1), [2012], pp. 156-193. For a full list of publications, click here.


Given how much many people undoubtedly enjoy automobile driving, and given the enormous number of cars made over the last century, and given the vast literature available on cars, it is remarkable how relatively little exploration has been given to the pleasures of actually driving cars. Masses of studies of car design, car production, advertising, racing, maintenance, highway design and traffic management, yes, but, by comparison, very little on the real experience of driving itself.

… the movie and automobile industries grew together because they both reflected a love kinetic energy, motion and speed

This creates a hole in our understanding of car driving, and instead we need here the kind of exploration proposed by urban geographer Nigel Thrift through the notion of ‘non-representational theory’, that is an investigation of everyday practices, where people create and imagine their lives in a non-academic manner. We need rather more reflection of the kind invoked by Roland Barthes in his famous essay on the Citroën DS, describing how the car is an object of amorous attentions, being touched, caressed and fondled. Or as philosopher Jean Baudrillard comments on freeways in his book America, ‘the point is not to write the sociology or the psychology of the car, the point is to drive. That way you learn more about this society than all academia could ever tell you.’

So why then the particular interdisciplinary intersection of Drive, which brings together concerns with driving experiences and cinema?

There is of course the simple issue of the vastness of the subject, whereby a huge range of primary sources on automobiles runs right the way from personal diaries to government reports, and to myriad enthusiast car magazines and specialist web sites, not to mention a plethora of novels, films, animations, paintings, sculpture, music and poetry. Indeed, my own bibliographic database has over 100,000 automobile references in print alone. Focusing on film thus provides one way of filtering this material down to a manageable size.

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