Civilizing motorized adventure : automotive technology, user culture and the Dutch Touring Club as mediator in the Netherlands

G.P.A. Mom, J.W. Schot, P.E. Staal

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    This contribution, which aims to provide a first outline of the history of Dutch automobilism from the perspective of the ANWB as an intermediary actor, illus trates that for an understanding of the success of the automobile one should look at how from the outset the new product and its use have been co-constructed. After all, in the course of its history the automobile appears to have fulfilled a whole range of functions, constantly changing in composition, putting it into a competitive position with the bicycle, coach, motorcycle, tram, train, and moped, and even with walking and the airplane. These various functions were always af forded by a set of technical properties. In the process of aligning functions to prop erties, intermediary actors — for the Netherlands especially the ANWB — played a crucial role. Before the First World War the ANWB began to articulate the de mand for a reliable touring car, while rejecting the racing machine. The aim was to keep the adventure but tame it. In the interwar years, the utilitarian function was added and the T-Ford fitted the call for a new automobile, in particular because the user could very simply convert a T-Ford into a truck, a van, or a bus. Finally, in a last step the emerging multifunctional automobile was translated into a family car for the masses. The main argument is not that each new function substituted an old one. On the contrary, functions accumulated, leading to an automobile that enabled many functions at once. The original first function of racing can still be found in the technical properties as well as in the use of the present automobile. In a country such as the Netherlands, without major car producers, interven tions by mediators such as the ANWB focused on the ‘receiving system’ in which the automobile had to be embedded. This organization sought to model this sys tem to a product that was being offered ready-made by the importers. In this pro cess the black box of the car had to be opened, however. After all ready-made cars could be converted and the network and infrastructure necessary to allow for the continuously changing functionality needed a lot of technical expertise. Two main lines of actions can be distinguished. First, the membership was bombarded with a host of articles in De Kampioen to the effect that the attitudes and visions, and consequently the buying habits of Dutch motorists, would change in the direc tion of ultimately a family car. The extent to which the ANWB largely reflected what was going on among its members, or whether it effectively educated them (by changing their habits) still has to be investigated. Second, and most importantly, both KNAC and ANWB excelled in the construction of what one might call an ‘automobile system. The focus on the ANWB as mediator and provider of a mediation junction does not reduce the importance of a separate analysis of the consumption junc tion. In our story the voice of the user is only heard through the perspective of the ANWB (and to a lesser extent of the KNAC). So we are mainly confronted with the represented user and only very indirectly get a glimpse of actual users. The ‘confrontation of the represented user with the real user: and, for that matter, the ‘projected user; by the producers seems to be the next challenge of a more compre hensive analysis of Dutch automobilism.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationManufacturing Technology/Manufacturing Consumers; The making of Dutch consumer society
    EditorsR. Oldenziel, A. Albert de la Bruhèze
    Place of PublicationAmsterdam
    Number of pages20
    ISBN (Print)978-90-5260-297-4
    Publication statusPublished - 2009

    Publication series

    NameTechnology and European History series


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