The Public Interest

Car Wars

Eugene Bardach

Winter 1978

ONE of the methodological stratagems used by social scientists who study their own societies is known as “Martian Viewpoint.” This device encourages the observer to think about the technologies of everyday life as though they were either odd or marvelous.  For example, Erving Goffman has pointed out that the modem house, with its gas jets and electrical outlets, is potentially a lethal instrument. It is a tribute to our biological, social, and cultural adaptability, Goffman implies, that houses are in fact rarely used for destructive purposes. Now, in The War Against the Automobile,* B. Bruce-Briggs has applied Martian Viewpoint to our most common transportation technology, and he finds it a wondrous thing.  His ruminations in this vein are not only persuasive but witty as well. They deserve to be quoted at some length...

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