Fast forward: technography of the social integration of connected and automated vehicles into UK society
The emerging connected and automated vehicles (CAV) have caught much research attention in the past few years. However, a techno-centric bias in the CAV research domain implies the lack of in-depth qualitative studies. To fill the gap, this Ph.D. project bridges the fields of Social Anthropology with STS by adopting technography, an ethnography of technology, to enable a thick description of the CAV technology’s social integration into UK society. By critically drawing a holistic view of the ongoing process of the CAV social deployment, it aims to (1) unfold CAV’s potential problems and dynamic contributions to everyday life through the lens of sociotechnical imaginaries, and (2) reveal and analyse the institutional practice on its social rollout. Based on pilot research and one-year-long fieldwork in London and Edinburgh, the thesis investigated a wide range of important socio-political aspects where fundamental topics such as trust, human-and-machine relationship, social safety, political transparency, and equity in transport systems were explicated. Different from the planners’ top-down CAV imaginaries that focused on its contribution to functional safety, environment, and the economy, the public’s bottom-up imaginaries highlighted issues that were related to their travelling experiences, such as inequity of transport service distribution and sexual harassment during commutes. These findings inspired thinking and rethinking on what constitutes the success of technology’s social deployment from multiple perspectives. In particular, it critically pointed out that safety means not only technological feasibility but also social safety that refers to a safe commuting environments. Such finding in my thesis thus suggests that CAV technology is not a one-size-fits-all solution to problems in our transport system and calls for research effort to the broader socio-political and ethical areas of this technology. through an investigation of the institutional practice, it identified four major institutional forces, including technicians, industry stakeholders, researchers, and policymakers who have been working on these aspects with different approaches and priorities. Apart from acknowledging their efforts in building safety cases, pushing forward the CAV legislation, and engaging the public in trials, it critically explained challenges such as technical uncertainty and political tension in developing and implementing a legal framework. Hence, the project contributes to an understanding of a close encounter between the CAV technology and its imaginaries, in which, technical and socio-political problems and potentials fabricate the richness in its social deployment. It also explicates the importance of embracing multiple perspectives and calls for continuous research in this field.