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Street Rivals: Jaywalking and the Invention of the Motor Age Street

From: Technology and Culture
Volume 48, Number 2, April 2007
pp. 331-359 | 10.1353/tech.2007.0085

Abstract

Before the American city could be physically reconstructed to accommodate automobiles, its streets had to be socially reconstructed as places where cars belong. Until then, streets were regarded as public spaces, where practices that endangered or obstructed others (including pedestrians) were disreputable. Motorists' claim to street space was therefore fragile, subject to restrictions that threatened to negate the advantages of car ownership. Epithets—especially joy rider—reflected and reinforced the prevailing social construction of the street. Automotive interest groups (motordom) recognized this obstacle and organized in the teens and 1920s to overcome it. One tool in this effort was jaywalker. Motordom discovered this obscure colloquialism in the teens, reinvented it, and introduced it to the millions. It ridiculed once-respectable street uses and cast doubt on pedestrians' legitimacy in most of the street. Though many pedestrians resented and resisted the term and its connotations, motordom's campaign was a substantial success.



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