Skip to content

Driving stereotypes about race, class and culture


Book cover of Race, Taste, Class and Cars, written by University of Bradford's Yunis Alam

New book asks why you are (not always) what you drive

What does your car say about you? More importantly, what do you think your car says about you, what do other people think it says about you, or, for that matter, what do you think other people think it says about you?

 That’s the (slightly mind-twisting) question being asked by Bradford sociologist Yunis Alam in his latest book, Race, Taste, Class and Cars.

Indeed, he will be discussing his findings on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed on Wednesday September 30 at 4pm.

The 240-page book examines our relationship with the humble automobile and the cultural, racial and economic stereotypes which surround it.

Yunis, 53, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Bradford, has a particular interest in popular culture, consumption and ethnicity and how these relate to and have an impact on identity. 

He says: “Almost everyone has an opinion on cars. When we see cars, we form an impression, which might be based on what kind of car it is, like manufacturer, model, private number plates, colour, design and where we are geographically. When we see the driver, we form another impression based around our aspects of identities such as race, class, gender and so on. We combine these different elements – the car on the one hand, the driver on the other – and that results in a kind of hybrid stereotype. This then becomes a cultural artefact; as such, we’re always ready to read something into cars and drivers

His analysis of cars - and in particular modified cars - is developed through sociological theory but there’s a real world significance which underpins his research.

“I’m using cars as a window to look at things like race, culture, racism and the stereotypes which form around them,” he explains. “Cars do not cause racism - that's much more structural and multifaceted - but cars are an interesting way of seeing race and racism in operation. I’m interested in that.”

Born and bred in Manningham, he studied at the University of Bradford as a mature student, in the School of Social Sciences, where he now teaches. He also conducted the research which led to the highly regarded book he edited called Made in Bradford (2006). It was during this project that his curiosity about cars as ‘cultural artefacts’ was piqued.

“You might ask what’s the point of doing sociology. What difference does it make? I try to answer that in a book about cars which might seem odd to some. But they do carry a lot of sociologically grounded meaning to us, especially in relation to class and ethnicity. But of course it’s more than a book about cars. It’s situated within a context that explores Bradford as a place that continues to develop and evolve, culturally and economically.”

Yunis examines the “intersectionality of race and class”, referencing the similarities between what he’s explored today with the work sociologists did in the 1950s around the recognition and valuing of working class culture. He views the modern (very healthy) modified car scene in Bradford as an “organic, authentic and class rooted” movement.

He adds: “I hope the book can prove informative and useful in terms of being able to assess where we are culturally, while at the same time acknowledging and challenging some of the stereotypes which often lead to various forms of discrimination, including those that marginalise individuals and communities along the lines of race, class and gender in particular.”

So, what kind of car does he drive?

“For the last 10 years, I’ve been driving an Audi A6,” he reveals. “It was the best car I ever had but I recently sold it and now drive a much more humble, and efficient, Citroen C1. What does that say about me? Probably that I’m skint.”

Race, Taste, Class and Cars is published by Policy Press, priced £14.99.

Back to news from 2020