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July 1, 2022

Autonomous People: Identity, Agency, and Automated Driving

Dunn, Peter T. (2021). Autonomous People: Identity, Agency, and Automated Driving. Journal Of Urban Technology, 28(3-4), 25 – 44.

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The prevailing discourse on autonomous vehicles (AVs) has not yet developed a sophisticated conceptualization of autonomy and has given insufficient attention to the autonomy of people. In response, this article shifts our attention away from the AV's autonomy and towards that of its user. Autonomy is conceived here as the socially and materially situated capacity of an individual to identify and act on one's own values and desires, a capacity that is desirable for collective political life. This definition is drawn selectively from a survey of thought illustrating the richness of this concept. I then examine how studies of transportation have already made use of certain themes of autonomy in understanding mobility practices beyond dominant utilitarian models. This sets up an examination of AVs, where the existing literature tends to use a narrow conceptualization of autonomy. I then briefly examine two examples of unsettled questions in AV development, discretionary user controls and shared ride systems, in light of autonomy. The goal of this article is both to show how autonomy can be productive in understanding mobility practices, and to argue for personal autonomy as a normative value worth pursuing in the technical, political, and social development of automated mobility systems.


Car Use; Vehicles; Travel; Accidents; Policy; Autonomy; Agency; Autonomous Vehicles; Mobility