McDowell-Naylor: Public-Making and the Development of Connected Autonomous Vehicles in the UK

Do join to hear Declan McDowell-Naylor talk about his research at the first of the Department of Politics and International Relations' PhD seminar series this term. 

Time: Wednesday 4 October, 12-1pm

Place: FW101


This paper explores various forms of ‘public-making’ practice observed during an eighteen-month ethnographic study of the development of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) in the United Kingdom (UK). The term public-making practices refers to ways of “assembling publics and of gauging their will or opinion” (Barry, 2013, 98) which in turn generates “empirical knowledge about publics, their opinions and concerns (ibid., 99). I argue that there is a pressing need to understand the observable role of public-making in the development of CAVs, under the normative and analytic terms of a politics of technology that speaks to both power-relations and democracy. In this area, Philip Howard (2015) has, for example, argued for purposeful civic engagement with the governments and businesses developing the Internet of Things (IoT), to help build what he terms a ‘democracy of our own devices’. However, despite an enormous range of popular debate about connected and autonomous vehicles in recent years, often focusing on the headline-friendly misnomer “driverless cars”, academic research focusing on political and social understandings of CAV development remains forthcoming. In response to this, I argue that CAV development can be located within the fields of science and technology studies (STS), political communication, and political theory. The conceptual themes and devices, empirical focuses applied to CAV development, and the research methods used in this analysis are derived from approaches jointly adopted from these fields. Ultimately, in terms of both democratic politics and power-relations, the analysis provides an overall picture that has some normative grounds for optimism. However, uncertainties persist about its viability into the future, due to evolving organizational structures, media effects, and the broader, macro-political consequences of issues such as Britain’s exit from the European Union. This paper contributes empirical findings about public engagement with the development of digital and automated technologies at a key time for internet research, as the technical advancements brought about developments such as the IoT pose complex political questions, including those raised by Howard (2015). In response, this paper sheds light on key political and social processes and highlights how standardized digital and automated technology applications are emerging in relation to the role of the public.