The Commute

Authored by: Rachel Aldred

The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415667715
eBook ISBN: 9781315857572
Adobe ISBN: 9781317934134


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The word ‘commute’ is said to come from the ‘commuting’ of fares paid by nineteenthcentury Americans regularly travelling to work by train (OED 2012). The commute to work as a mass phenomenon is tied to the separation of home and work, characteristic of the shift from feudalism to capitalism, and specifically to the later rise of mass transit enabling the large-scale greater separation of the two. Hence the commute should be seen in the context of structural changes in the organisation of production, as well as structural changes in gendered relations to spaces of paid and unpaid work inside and outside the home. This relates not just to the movement of people but of things, the railways initially being developed for freight purposes (Wolmar 2007). Rail freight enabled factories to be located further away from raw materials (such as coal and limestone, often found inconveniently far from existing population centres). Being able to move raw materials (and finished goods) longer distances gave employers more flexibility in locating factories and reduced the need to provide new housing for workers.

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