Transport and social mobility

As we head into the next wave of technology-driven social and economic change, it is worth asking whether we always focus on the most important elements of such change. Looking at at the impact of previous and current industrial revolutions, it seems to me that the key drivers of change have always been information and mobility. The printing press opened the previously closed world of scholarship and learning to a much wider social group – potentially to everyone – while the railways introduced physical mobility, thereby effectively ending the feudal system. In particular, mass transport introduced the growth of urbanisation.

As we survey the momentum of change associated with big data, robotics and automation, we sometimes forget that transport and mobility will also be key drivers of social and economic change in this next industrial revolution. But government planners are remarkably unimaginative about this: generally it is planning around faster trains, bigger airport runways – essentially improvements in existing frameworks of transport infrastructure. Other preoccupations are, understandably, focused on technology to reduce or remove polluting emissions.

But if the 18th and 19th century railways enabled people to make more autonomous choices about where they would live and work, and if that was a key to economic re-positioning at the time, what will be the equivalent in the next phase of human development? To get to the right destination, we need to do more than just tweak or slightly modernise the systems we have now. We need to ask questions of social policy, about what kind of mobility will enhance the quality of life and the generation of fairly distributed wealth, and how that can be delivered. More importantly, we need to decide what social and technological research should start now to make that possible in the near future.

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9 Comments on “Transport and social mobility”

  1. Anna Notaro Says:

    I would only complement these interesting observations by reminding that one cannot fully understand the social implications of mobility (space)
    without considering its relation with time, as Giddens demonstrated many years ago. http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/026327648200100208


    • Ah yes, good reminder. I am always interested in the relationship between geography and social theory. I think there’s more to be said about that.

      • Anna Notaro Says:

        Also media & network theory could be useful for the issues discussed here. Mobility and transport are increasingly becoming part of the networked society (of ‘The Internet of Things’ which increasingly uses new business models like blockchain), as self-driving cars are developed, hiring an Uber or a shared bike via smartphones become mainstream, this generates a huge amount of mobility data, hence it will be fascinating to see what changes this brings for culture, society and industry.

      • paulmartin42 Says:

        Hmmm
        Good bye & Good luck on your next challenge ..

  2. Vince Says:

    I think you might be dealing with two things. In the UK at the start of the IR you had a cohort of the wealthy landowners that weren’t involved in life at court and a cohort of Catholics and Presbyterians who had to keep their wealth in cash. And when things kicked off with transport you had both people with liquid assets and a lot of low income workers ready to come off the fields and over the Irish sea. It was only as a result of the French wars around 1800 that the IR became a part of the States thinking.
    In Europe it was quite different. There the State was very involved from the beginning. The command and control that was aped from the Swedish, Russian under Peter and the Great Elector meant nothing moved nor made without the Crown’s imprimatur.
    The difference between the two taking your essay into account is that the Navvie type had a value in the kingdoms in Europe they had none in the UK. They were a problem once the canal was build, solved by starvation and the noose.
    As we have seen since 2008 there isn’t a whole hell of a lot of ‘new’ thinking coming out of civil servants. The poor and those left stranded by the tide (remember that one) but for the dole would’ve starved. And we had at the time the judges deciding citizens would be jailed for long periods if they became involved in disorder. A bit like the fat JP writing to the Castle about disorder he had caused.
    However we had not one policy that actively worked in the way thing work in Austria, or any of the other EU States.
    How long did it take for a sane bankruptcy legislation arrived, if it has. Why are we still playing the game with tenants. Why are they ejected if the landlord has the holding repossessed.
    Nope, I think the same arrogance that caused famine in India still exists in the core thinking of the British civil service, and I include the Dublin branch in this.

  3. Ultan Says:

    Whither remote working. That requires network investment of another kind too. Again, a political and social decision, and not for everybody. https://www.siliconrepublic.com/companies/towns-remote-working-ireland

  4. modireforoshir Says:

    Ah yes, good reminder. I am always interested in the relationship between geography and social theory. I think there’s more to be said about that.


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