Date of Award

Spring 2020

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Cultural Studies, PhD


School of Arts and Humanities

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Eve Oishi

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

JoAnna Poblete

Dissertation or Thesis Committee Member

David K. Seitz

Terms of Use & License Information

Terms of Use for work posted in Scholarship@Claremont.

Rights Information

© 2020 Michael W. Pesses


The automobile has long been directly and indirectly connected to human conceptions of nature, yet few studies linger with the act of driving as a practice that contributes to how nature is experienced. I argue that a more nuanced understanding of automobility is necessary for any scholars who study both social practices and environmental sustainability. Following the work of the human geographer Doreen Massey, I explore how relations between humans and non-humans, the social and the natural, ideology and practice work together to produce places specific to space and time. I also argue that American automobility is not simply transportation, but is in fact an ideology. As such, specific practices of automobility shift in relation to the ideology, framing how subjects respond to power or to other articulations of subjectivity, and ultimately, produce places.

As an example of the work being done by humans, machines, and nature, I focus on the practice of four-wheeling done in Northern California along the Rubicon Trail, a historical, long unimproved road that is claimed to be the toughest in North America. Operating within the ideology of American automobility, four-wheelers have historically used the Rubicon Trail to make and reproduce a natural place that is connected to the use of machines. When such practices were threatened by environmental degradation, four-wheelers worked within environmentalist discourse, while maintaining a distinct subjectivity framed counter to that of an environmentalist, to ensure the continuation of use of the Rubicon Trail.