, Volume 46, Issue 3, pp 371–383 | Cite as

Destabilising automobility? The emergent mobilities of generation Y

  • Debbie HopkinsEmail author


This paper uses empirical material gathered with young adults in New Zealand to examine a potential sustainability transition-in-practice. It draws from two frameworks; the actor-centred Energy Cultures Framework to explore mobility behaviours, and the multi-level perspective (MLP) to situate behaviour change within the socio-technical transitions literature. The MLP has traditionally been used to analyse historical transitions (e.g. from the horse and cart to the motor vehicle), but in this paper, it is used to explore an on-going change trend; the emergent mobilities of young adults who appear to be aspiring for different types of mobility. A series of mobility trends are described, which emerged from a programme of qualitative interviews (n = 51). The material culture, norms and practices that constitute these trends are articulated. These are then considered through the lens of the MLP. The evidence points to emergent trends of multimodality that, if leveraged upon and supported, could contribute to a systemic sustainability transition.


Automobility Energy cultures framework Generation Y Millennial generation Mobility trends Multi-level perspective (MLP) Socio-technical transitions 



This research was completed whilst the author was based at the Centre for Sustainability, University of Otago, working on the Energy Cultures project. Janet Stephenson, Gerry Carrington, Michelle Scott and three anonymous reviewers are thanked for their constructive feedback on earlier versions of this paper.


  1. Adey, P., D. Bissell, K. Hannam, P. Merriman, and M. Sheller. 2014. The Routledge handbook of mobilities. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Banister, D. 2008. The sustainable mobility paradigm. Transport Policy 15(2): 73–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Banister, D. 2011. Cities, mobility and climate change. Journal of Transport Geography 19(6): 1538–1546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Barker, J., P. Kraftl, J. Horton, and F. Tucker. 2009. The road less travelled—New directions in children’s and young people’s mobility. Mobilities 4(1): 1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beckmann, J. 2001. Automobility—A social problem and theoretical concept. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 19: 593–607.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Benckendorff, P., G. Moscardo, and D. Pendergast. 2010. Tourism and Generation Y. Wallingford: CABI Publishing.Google Scholar
  7. Berkhout, F., A. Smith, and A. Stirling. 2004. Socio-technological regimes and transition contexts. In System innovation and the transition to sustainability: Theory, evidence and policy, ed. B. Elzen, F.W. Geels, and K. Green, 48–75. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  8. Böhm, S., C. Jones, C. Land, and M. Paterson. 2006. Part one conceptualizing automobility: Introduction: Impossibilities of automobility. The Sociological Review 54(1): 1–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Boswijk, A. 2013. The power of the economy of experiences: new ways of value creation. In Handbook on the experience economy, ed. J. Sundbo, and F. Sørensen. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.Google Scholar
  10. Clifton, K.J., and S.L. Handy. 2001. Qualitative methods in travel behaviour research. In International conference on transport survey quality and innovation, Kruger National Park, South Africa. August 5–10.Google Scholar
  11. Conley, J. 2009. Automobile advertising: The magical and the mundane. In Car troubles: Critical studies of automobility and auto-mobility, ed. J. Conley, and A.T. McLaren. Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  12. Conley, J., and A.T. McLaren. 2009. Introduction. In Car troubles: Critical studies of automobility and auto-mobility, ed. J. Conley, and A.T. McLaren, 1–17. Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  13. Delbosc, A., and G. Currie. 2013. Causes of youth licensing decline: A synthesis of evidence. Transport Reviews 33(3): 271–290.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dowling, R., and C. Simpson. 2013. ‘Shift—The way you move’: Reconstituting automobility. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 27(3): 421–433.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Frändberg, L. and B. Vilhelmson. 2011. More or less travel: Personal mobility trends in the Swedish population focusing gender and cohort. Journal of Transport Geography 19: 1235–1244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Gaskins, K. 2010. The new sharing economy: Latitude. Massachusetts. Available from:
  17. Geels, F.W. 2004. From sectoral systems of innovation to socio-technical systems: Insights about dynamics and change from sociology and institutional theory. Research Policy 33(6): 897–920.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Geels, F.W. 2005. Processes and patterns in transitions and system innovations: Refining the co-evolutionary multi-level perspective. Technological Forecasting and Social Change 72(6): 681–696.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Geels, F.W. 2012. A socio-technical analysis of low-carbon transitions: Introducing the multi-level perspective into transport studies. Journal of Transport Geography 24: 471–482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Geels, F.W., and J. Schot. 2007. Typology of sociotechnical transition pathways. Research Policy 36(3): 399–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gunn, S. 2013. people and the car: The expansion of automobility in urban Britain, c. 1955–1970. Social History 38(2): 220–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hannam, K., M. Sheller, and J. Urry. 2006. Editorial: Mobilities, immobilities and moorings. Mobilities 1(1): 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Haustein, S., and T.A. Sick Nielsen. 2016. European mobility cultures: A survey-based cluster analysis across 28 European countries. Journal of Transport Geography 54: 173–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hopkins, D., and J. Stephenson. 2014. Generation Y Mobilities through the lens of energy cultures: A preliminary exploration. Journal of Transport Geography 38: 88–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hopkins, D., and J. Stephenson. 2016. The replication and reduction of automobility: Findings from New Zealand. Journal of Transport Geography 56: 92–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. John, N.A. 2013. The social logics of sharing. The Communication Review 16(3): 113–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Klinger, T., J.R. Kenworthy, and M. Lanzendorf. 2013. Dimensions of urban mobility cultures—A comparison of German cities. Journal of Transport Geography 31: 18–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Kuhnimhof, T., J. Armoogum, R. Buehler, J. Dargay, J.M. Denstadli, and T. Yamamoto. 2012. Men shape a downward trend in car use among young adults—Evidence from six industrialized countries. Transport Reviews 32(6): 761–779.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Litman, T., and F. Laube. 2002. Automobile dependency and economic development. Victoria: Victoria Transport Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  30. Lucas, K. 2013. Qualitative methods in transport research: The ‘action research’ approach. In Transport survey methods: Best practice for decision-making, ed. J. Zmud, M. Lee-Gosselin, and J.A. Carrasco. Bingley: Emerald Publishing.Google Scholar
  31. Markard, J., R. Raven, and B. Truffer. 2012. Sustainability transitions: An emerging field of research and its prospects. Research Policy 41(6): 955–967.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Martin, G. 2009. The global intensification of motorisation and its impacts on urban social ecologies. In Cat troubles: Critical studies of automobility and auto-mobility, ed. J. Conley, and A.T. McLaren, 219–233. Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  33. NZ Ministry of Transport. 2014. Future Demand: New Zealand transport and society trends and projections. Available from:
  34. Oatman-Standford, H. 2014. Murder machines: Why cars will kill 30,000 Americans this year. 24 April 2014.
  35. Parkhurst, G., R. Kemp, M. Dijk, and H. Sherwin. 2012. Intermodal personal mobility: A niche caught between two regimes. In Automobility in transition? A socio-technical analysis of sustainable transport, ed. F.W. Geels, R. Kemp, G. Dudley, and G. Lyons, 308–334. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  36. Paterson, M. 2007. Automobile politics: Ecology and cultural political economy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  37. Sager, T. 2006. Freedom as mobility: Implications of the distinction between actual and potential travelling. Mobilities 1(3): 465–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schwanen, T. 2016. Rethinking resilience as capacity to ensure. City 20(1): 152–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Sheller, M., and J. Urry. 2000. The city and the car. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 24(4): 737–757.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sheller, M., and J. Urry. 2006. Mobile technologies of the city. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  41. Shove, E., M. Pantzar, and M. Watson. 2012. The dynamics of social practice: Everyday life and how it changes. London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Sims, R., and R. Schaeffer. 2014. Transport. In Climate change 2014: Mitigation of climate change, ed. IPCC. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Sivak, M., and B. Schoettle. 2012. Recent changes in the age composition of drivers in 15 countries. Traffic Injury Review 13: 126–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Smith, A., and R. Raven. 2012. What is protective space? Reconsidering niches in transitions to sustainability. Research Policy 41(6): 1025–1036.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Soron, D. 2009. Driven to drive: Cars and the problem of ‘compulsory consumption. In Car troubles: Critical studies of automobility and auto-mobility, ed. J. Conley, and A.T. McLaren, 181–196. Farnham: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  46. Stephenson, J., B. Barton, G. Carrington, D. Gnoth, R. Lawson, and P. Thorsnes. 2010. Energy cultures: A framework for understanding energy behaviours. Energy Policy 38(10): 6120–6129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Stephenson, J., D. Hopkins, and A. Doering. 2014. Conceptualizing transport transitions: Energy cultures as an organizing framework. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy & Environment 4(4): 354–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stephenson, J., B. Barton, J. Carrington, A. Doering, R. Ford, D. Hopkins, and B. Wooliscroft. 2015. The energy cultures framework: Exploring the role of norms, practices and material culture in shaping energy behaviour in New Zealand. Energy Research and Social Science 7: 117–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Sundbo, J., and F. Sørensen. 2013. Handbook on the experience economy. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Ulli-Beer, S. 2013. Dynamic governance of energy technology change, sustainability and innovation. Berlin: Springer-Verlag. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-39753-0_2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Urry, J. 2007. Mobilities. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  52. Wells, P., and D. Xenias. 2015. From ‘freedom of the open road’ to ‘cocooning’: Understanding resistance to change in personal private automobility. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, Online First.. doi: 10.1016/j.eist.2015.02.001.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Transport Studies Unit, School of Geography and the EnvironmentUniversity of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations