In Praise of Idleness
…another candle lighted.
Hitchhiking – Culture, philosophy and Life
By Hamish Campbell
Sociology Department Edinburgh University
I would like to thank the people who helped with this project, and the many who could have but found time to do other things, generally dull.
I would like to thank the people who helped with this project.
Lynne Jamison (patience and bravery), Alex Howson (foundation), Thalia and Ian Campbell (spellchecks, support and socialisation), Russell Sharpe (long term project), Sylvie Catteno (frustration and gratification), all the many drivers who picked me up, all the hitchhikers who generously gave of their time, Richard Wheeler (last minute proof reading), Josh Berryman (for ‘being there’), Malac (connoisseur of ‘madams’), Bridget Hasewend (for a spark), Jean Schepes (for being the best quotation), Alison Magnall and Patrick (for putting up with me), Carola (phD blues), Bernd Wechner (for being on the internet) and Cressida Coulson (who is marginally more use than a tree).
The Victorian Author R.L. Stevenson provides an image of the ideal type - the vagabond and inspiration to for this project. In An Apology for Idlers he argues that there are people that are not respecting:
“the dogmatic certainties of the ruling class…”
In my project this is the “youthful” romantically self motivated Hitch-hiker (HH), who rejects the certainties of their parents’ world to embrace the chances and opportunity of the open road.
“and that those who do not enter the handicap race for the sixpenny piece are an insult and a disenchantment for those that do… a fine fellow votes for the sixpence and goes for it… and while such a one is ploughing distressfully up the road it is not hard to understand his resentment when he perceives cool persons in the meadows by the wayside lying with a handkerchief over their ears and a glass at their elbow…”
There is a tension between those who drive and those who stand by the road, for work brings for the majority the opportunity to drive, and those who HH are seen as not working and thus not paying their way.
“It is a sore thing to have laboured along and scaled the arduous hilltops, and when it is all done, find humanity indifferent to your achievement… Hence physicists condemn the unphysical, financiers have only a superficial toleration for those who know little of stocks, literary persons despise the unlettered, and people of all pursuits combine to disparage those that have none”
The beggar standing by the road is an incitement to those paying their way, the HH’s plea is for “universal humanity” and the rejection of “use value”. Mr Worldly Wiseman in his car may say.
“how now young what dost thou here... is this not the hour of the class...”
To which the young perspective traveler replies:
“as a time may soon come for me to go on pilgrimage, I am desirous to note what is commonly done by persons in my case, and where are the ugliest Sloughs and Thickets on the road. As also what manner of staff is of the best service. I lie here by this water to learn by root of heart a lesson which my master teaches me to call Peace or Contentment.”
That is, the traveler strives for other “post-materialistic” values. At this Mr Worldly Wiseman was:
“much commoved by passion and shaking his cane with a very threatful countenance... Learning quotha.... I would have all such rogues scourged by the Hangman. He would go on his way ruffling out his cravat with a crackle of starch, as a turkey when it spreads its feathers.”
The prices of “accepting the six’s pence” to live a life of soft respectable blandness to be fattened for Xmas. Stevenson’s an Apology for Idleness is a plea that:
“idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of identity... the sort of dead eyed hackneyed people are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation... those fellows in the country or aboard ship... they pine for their desk or their study... they have no curiosity...cannot give themselves to random provocation... when they do not need to go to the office ....the whole breathing world is a blank to them… As if a man’s soul is not small enough to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work and no play.”
His conclusion is the subheading of the project.
“A happy man or woman is a better thing to find than a five pound note. He or she is a radiating focus of goodwill, their entrance into a room is as though another candle had been lighted.”.
This Victorian view is of course only one side of the sixpenny piece.
What is a Hitchhiker? 4
Research Methods 6
What I have done 7
Initial project outline 8
Project completed 9
Social History: Beggar - Vagabond – Hitchhiker 11
The Vagabond – Liber Vagatorum 12
Sociology, Ideology and Philosophy 18
HH biographies 23
Why do people HH? 26
Where do they come from and were do they go? 27
“The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking” 28
European Countries 32
Data from Edinburgh to Istanbul Fieldtrip 35
Further Work 37
Appendix 1 46
The image of the hitchhiker has attracted negative and positive attention in recent years. Predominantly, the discourses on hitchhiking have drawn on the horror and danger of both giving lifts to and accepting lifts from strangers. There have always been historical upsurges of hitchhiking, when it has been considered fashionable and convenient. In the 1960’s, for example, hitchhiking became a way for young people to express their rejection of an authoritative and alienating society. Few studies have critically analyzed the experience of hitchhiking. Having the personal experience of hitchhiking over 3 decades, I believed that the essence of hitchhiking is a positive, romantic one and decided to examine how this is reflected in the sociological and historical literature. In addition, I undertook a personal hitchhiking journey to research how hitchhikers and drivers understand, think and feel about hitchhiking.
Freedom and creativity are at the base of our idea of the “good life”. The question of how these ideals are to be pursued are a continuous thread running thorough all our academic and social debates. This project is about how small isolated groups through out Western European history have endeavored to live out the possibility of the ideal of individual freedom and creativity. A historical and contemporary examination of the self motivated Hitchhiker and in an historical guise, the vagabond.
From a Western mythical perspective, the first tramp was Cain, the last will be the Wandering Jew. The story of the wandering man (and mostly man it is in our history) stretches back to before the Biblical tales of Christ’s temptations in the desert. I pick up the trail in the 12th century with the founding of the monasteries, the mendicant begging orders and the universities. This history plays a significant role in our romantic idealization and rationalistic rejection of the contemporary Vagabond.
I set out to look at HH in its widest aspects, the pilot study revealed that my research methods, doing HH and living as a HH, would lead to an examination of a subgroup of HH. This was amplified by the European nature of the project, the only real language I had was English, though I can get by in “pidgin” in most of Europe – and good will -the language of emotions and signs, though universal, is not so useful for textual analysis. The middle class and educated of each country is overly represented, though I did talk to all the HH and people I met. This project is thus a representation and amplification of their, and my own, bourgeois worldview - a contemporary look at middle class assumptions.
In literature, as in life the “free individual” is held as an ideal, a romantic rejection of everyday life. In this project, I have attempted to critically examine this idea of a free “creative” individual. One who makes life in their own image – rather than following “doggedly” in the footsteps of the preceding generation. Direction from within rather than direction from without, the contemporary vagabond, the HH is in rejecting the dominant paradigm - not paying his/her way and proud of it. Writing in 1974 Mario Rinvolucri in Hitch-hiking illustrates the ill ease this caused, he quotes the road haulage workers’ magazine, Headlight (April 1953):
“I suppose many of these youngsters who scrounge lifts have caught the habit from the Forces who were glad of this form of travel to get home for short spells during the war. There is no excuse for it now. Most of them actually set out with the avowed intention of seeing the country for nothing. They carry a tent, (in the summer) and after their free ride, and quite often free meals at the driver’s expense, camp out for the night, again for nothing. When I was a youngster we had to save our coppers if we wanted a day at the seaside, and when we went we really appreciated it, even though it was just for a day. These present day youngsters seem to want all they can get for nothing, and take it for granted that lorries and private cars are on the road especially for their benefit. If they cannot afford train or bus fares then they should stay at home.”
This story I tell is about ideology, so on the theoretical side I will be laying to one side the question of truth and will concentrate on what underlies individuals’ and society’s expectations. My fieldwork studies provide some empirical grounding to the historical and theoretical aspect of this work.
Firstly, we need to ask some basic questions, which the simple personal answers will illuminate the assumptions under-lining the project:
What is an individual - One who is creative, i.e. Different?
What is creativity - The ability to add to human experiences – or happiness – or passion?
Romanticism - The ability and inclination to live a creative life?
Can we have freedom i.e. Individual creativity - This depends on your preferences for idealism or materialism – this is a matter of belief.
This project is less interested in the routine actions of travelers, though the fieldwork did examine this, and more the possibility of stepping outside the ongoing materialistic/patriarchal/consumptive practices and discourse. I look at how “social individuals” create and recreate the HH experience, constructing a collective identity.
Why do non-HH classes tend to desire and hate the HH? To look at this I take two strands, firstly: at the social history of the idea – ideal type – Vagabond; Secondly by looking empirically at who and what the HH is today. I examine: Medieval history; Elizabethan transition and rejection and the modern tension involved in societies’ attitude to vagabonds, wanderers, tramps and HH.
What is a Hitchhiker?
The word Hitchhiking originated in 1920’s America, in Scotland the first recorded use found by Bernd Wechner is in the The Glasgow Herald, Tuesday September 6th 1927 –“Casual Column”:
“AMERICA, which is the melting-pot not only of races but of colloquial English, has produced not a few startling words and phrases. While we admire many examples from this characteristic mint for their picturesque oddity, wit, and general applicability to the purpose, the coinage is obviously only for national circulation and is not likely to pass for currency even in the later editions of Murray’s dictionary. The bootlegger and his predatory enemy the hijacker are instances of the purely indigenous American word. The hobo has been rivaled (so an American correspondent informs us) by the hitchhiker, which is the latest curiosity born out of the linguistic genius of the Yankee. The hobo, long familiar to readers of fiction and social investigators, stole rides from one end of the continent to the other on freight trains. The hitchhiker, with the same passion for free travel, indulges it at the expense of the motorist. There are apparently hitchhikers in the United States, who boast they can travel 500 miles free of charge without walking more than 10. The importuning of the motorist is evidently a highly organised and skilful business. So long as it is possible to travel 25 miles for twopence by tramcar, as in Glasgow, there seems no danger, however, of the movement developing in this part of Scotland.”
In this project, due to the nature of the research methods, I concentrate on the HH who travel from choice, those who see HH as a romantic pastime, though I do touch on other categories. Within these categories are the idealists or romantics and the “practical” HH - these tend to be split on a class basis – middle class romantics and working class necessity. The more practical minded hold down jobs and “pay their way”.
The field research strongly highlights a division between backpackers and HH. Quite simply the backpacker is paying their way, and proud of it. They are “consuming” commodified life, their direction comes from a book, they are following the itinerary. In my fieldwork I found a backpacker circular of socialisation, where my study of HH was searching for creativity. Whether there can be a division made between these, I will consider later. The backpackers frequently repeated overheard conversation:
“You have to go to Olympus…so cool, so cool… I have been...It’s not a tourist trap… you know...in another 10 years it’s all roped off… we are in the tail of this country”.
Overheard conversations Oriental Hostel, Istanbul, project diary p79
The conversations are much the same in every backpacker hostel. Their journeys are little open to the vagaries of life, people of the country they travel through. They are the socialised bourgeois youth of the world. In a year or two, jobs, families, and commitments will replace conversations about the “sights”, will become the foundation of a new set of roles, a new way of being. One generation will have turned over to the next the smouldering torch of Western history. By the very nature of the way the HH travels they step outside this circle to see the world with clear eyes. They are thrown amongst the pains and pleasures of the world as it is, not commodified and packaged for easy consumption. The HH may run the risk of suffering from the “food poisoning of life”, but at least what they bite into has flavour.
My memories have been continually plundered using “opportunistic research strategies” and “at hand” knowledge and by reference to unique biographies. My own “Retrospective auto-ethnography” - I started hitchhiking at my mothers knee, she would take me off as a child chaperone to feminist conferences, art exhibitions, counter cultural events in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. After leaving school I used to hitchhike as a student to and from catering college in Mid Wales. Then around England, Europe, Across the Atlantic, the Caribbean, America. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s I continued this trend, hitchhiking to Moscow, Scandinavia and in North Africa.
My earlier extensive experience of the hitchhiking “life style” across continents, oceans and war zones, positions me not as the unbiased, objective observer in the vein of the positivist tradition in sociology, or the ideal interpretative qualitative researcher. To complete this project I have attempted a more ethnographic piece of “insider research” using my “retrospective auto-ethnography” to help to define and shape the project. I hope the immediacy of interviewing involved could lead to a stronger and more representative view of HH, which a piece of “outside” research could not capture. As C. W. Mills said:
“You must learn to use your life experience in your intellectual work, continually to examine and interpret it. In this sense craftsmanship is the center of yourself and you are personally involved in every intellectual product upon which you work.”
I claim validity for my findings because of my own experiences and involvement. Though I do recognize the difficulty of this approach, the most obvious being that of the researcher being too close to the subject matter, either to see the sociological significance of that which appears completely normal, or to be able to frame criticisms - the ‘rose tinted spectacles’ problem.
Who am I? British - English, middle class, educated, young(-ish), cotton trousers and shirts, not business, not sporty, not hippie, not trendy, not laddish, male, easy going, aware, “politically correct”, white.
To sum this section up I thought it would be informative to introduce the reader to a HH biography, an interview with my mother about her and my early HH experience and her thoughts on HH now.
Can you give me an example of you and me HH when I was small?
“Scarborough to Aberystwyth to an interview for a place at university. I was 37 Hamish was 8. Left in clear windy sunshine but caught in a snowstorm on the M 62. Luckily we got lift in a cozy sports car with the heater full on. Stopped by the police in Newtown. I was asked many questions which I answered. When finally they asked my age I told them with irritation I was 93 and with Hamish strode off into the distance. The police left us. A certain disrespect for authority is part of HH. I got there in time for supper.”
An another time?
“HH with Angus and Tom to Oxford. They are aged 10 and 12. All three of us the same height and weight with long hair, all wearing jeans and T-shirts, hitching outside the Thames Valley Police headquarters. Lots of police on motor bikes and in cars buzzing around… we were bound to be stopped and questioned. Yes, a police car draws up along side us. Policeman leans out the window.
‘Why are you three girls HH? Isn’t it dangerous?’
Answer – ‘I am their mother.’
Police comment - ‘Isn’t it dangerous for your daughters?’ My answer ‘They are my sons?’ Police car winds up window and drives off.”
“HH coming back to Wales’s open empty roads, through sparsely populated areas. Hours of waiting as it gets dark… A lorry once parked very close to a wall making it impossible for me to open the passenger door and get out. I had to talk my way out of that situation.”
Why did you HH?
“Basic reasons for HH, one money, two fun, fun, three, I could not drive, and four to get to places and events… It was fun, but not now. There is a quantifiable change with violent mentally ill people on the streets. Care in the community is a better life for some but many now who should be receiving care are living in card board boxes or in prison. People have changed, me, me, me. Thatcher fanned the embers of prejudice, selfishness and greed. People were admired for being decent caring, honest and generous now such people are seen as suckers.”
64 year old British woman HH interview p28
What I have done
I have looked at the available material deposited in two copyright libraries including fiction, poetry, biographies, autobiographies and travel guides in Edinburgh University Library, The National Library of Scotland, and the Bodleian library Oxford. I searched the catalogue by amongst other words and most importantly “hitchhiking”, “tramping”, “vagabond” followed the resulting bibliographical references.
Between 1996 and late 1998 I have undertaken field work journeys in 21 Europe countries, interviewing the majority of drivers, hitchhiker and past HH that I met whilst in the field. Interviews were taped (14 hours) data was entered on a portable computer (120 semi-structured questioners, over 100,000 words of Diary and notes). In the second year of the study I videotaped the driver and HH interviews and the experiences of a HH on the road (23 hours of broadcast quality digital video). In addition to this I ran a pilot study in the UK interviewing over 40 drivers and 5 HH.
During these two years, I used quantitative research methods of driver questionnaires and qualitative in-depth tape-recorded, unstructured, discussions with Hitchhikers. In the second year of research, I found my methods were getting in the way of understanding the “feeling” of HH. The time was frustrating trying to fit the world into poorly understood pre-conceived categories in this I was missing much of the wider picture. This led to the abandonment of my driver questionnaire and the much-reduced use of tape recording – with this, I felt again to be a Hitchhiker. The problem is of course my record keeping – after a hard day on the road – the last thing on my mind was the updating of the diary. This led to less recorded periods of “rediscovering” the Hitchhiking experiences.
In the first year, I undertook what in HH terms would be considered an “epic” journey from Edinburgh to Istanbul. With much time spent in France, Germany and Greece. After this year of study I was feeling disappointed with my ability to communicate my ideas and the ideas and experiences of those I met in a written format. The logical outcome of this was to try and transfer my project from the ill-suited, for a dyslexic, medium of paper to the more malleable audio/visual medium of video. In the second year as well as documenting hitchhiking in England, Scotland and Wales I undertook a second research trip to Russia to translate the earlier data and conclusion into a video documentary. From my “armchair in Edinburgh”. This seemed a feasible idea, which I agreed with my supervisor to hand in as ½ my dissertation.
The research trip and the resulting wealth of material proved much more difficult to “digest” than initially considered. I started the project with a “humanistic” idea about the pursuit of knowledge and the sanctity of creativity. This has been dashed, repeatedly and monotonously by the dulling influence of the very world I set out to critically examine. A great part of this project, most importantly the video documentary is left to “the gnawing of mice”.
Initial project outline
1) I set out to discover what truth – if any – lies behind the myths associated with HH, and build a more empirically based idea of who, what, and where HH takes place.
2) Secondly, presuming that my empirical study creates a idea of HH as other than the popular and media myth, I am interested in asking why this myth has intensified, why are we increasingly fearful of “uncontrolled” interaction (c.f. Giddens and Risk) Our “irrational” need to control our surroundings and the resulting loss of trust in our fellow human beings. In a very real sense our closing off of choices – that is freedom.
I was interested in looking at HH from the perspective of coercion in a “pluralistic” society. How does this differ between nations and regions? I start from the view of Europe as one of a single culture, crossing national boundaries.
How do you become a HH?
Are HH part of a community?
Is it a closed loop - a form of behavior that is propagated by contact, a mentor situation?
Do you stop being a HH and do “retired” HH who move into the world of automobile pickup HH?
Are there different types of HH? If there are, must they mix?
Is HH “begging” if so does that explain its moral rejection?
When I set out the popular and media myths were powerful and important, by the time I had finished my two years of fieldwork they had retreated to but pale shadows, and are only represented by a brief section on the dangers of HH.
I have attempted to do is to find the empirical reality of hitchhiking and of those who hitchhike, by fieldwork, by hitchhiking myself and by interviewing hitchhikers. I attempted not to be selective, though the fatigues and vagaries of being “on the road” affected this impartiality (see the fieldwork diary for an understanding of the HH experiences).
The fieldwork, literature and its philosophical underpinnings revealed a romantic ideology that underlies the motivation of the subgroup of both the vagabond and the hitchhiker. Romanticism in this context can be seen as a reaction against the alienation of consumerist conformity of “modern” society. In Max Weber’s words “the iron cage of bureaucracy, disenchantment”.
The interviews reflect a positive view of HH, the interviews are with people who currently pickup HH, missing those who do not give lifts, and those who have never given lifts or who have stopped giving lifts (for whatever reason). Though to counter this “bias” there has been plentiful opportunities for the drivers to harm or abuse the interviewer – which didn’t happen.
The first HH interviews were with a mixture of students and Edinburgh residents found by the “snowball” technique, of acquaintances leading to acquaintances. I followed a similar strategy in Oxford, but mixing in a wider selection of people from the squatting and road-protesting scene. The majority of the interviewing, after this provisional work, was found on the road (many times literally) throughout Europe. I have formally interviewed over 200 drivers and conducted taped interviews with 30 HH past and present, and talked to many more. I have 23 hours of video, covering driver and HH interviews, life on the road. The project is also enlightened by conversations with many different people throughout, from diverse professions, drivers, academics, vagabonds, prostitutes, policemen (these while being arrested by them) and numerous “normal” people.
The HH interviews conducted in-groups were a problem for people expressing personal feelings and events, especially for mixed sex groups. Though on the other hand I found that it was much more practical to arrange group interviews, as people were sometimes not eager or easy to talk to a stranger on a one-to-one basis.
I consider this to be, in the circumstances and within limitations, a reasonably reliable collection of data. It is a look at HH from a certain direction, but that direction is not without foundations as I try to highlight in my later sections. A more “perfect” survey would reveal the problem of the public negative view of HH (which as my data reveals for the HH and drivers I interviewed, seems not to be well founded). The immediacy of interviewing involving “on the job” research I hope has led to not only a positive but also a more representative view of HH.
After field work I have found that I am studying the white middle class male. On my way back to Edinburgh in discussions, the Oxford Union men were shocked and attacking me that I was studying them, not out studying “vagabonds, real vagabonds”, That is I should be out studying real “down and outs.” This cuts at the heart of my project - I was studying them not what they thought I should be studying those below them, those other than them.
Social History: Beggar - Vagabond – Hitchhiker
In this section I attempt to ground the contemporary HH in a historical setting, outlining how the HH came from a long history of the beggar, tramp and vagabond. This examination helps to highlight on the one hand, the romanticisation of the HH and on the other, its popular rejection. Firstly beggars:
“HH sometimes it is begging, a nice form of begging…you have a space you are going in, a direction.”
Young German female Edinburgh University HH interviews p26
The negative view of HH as beggars is for me a problem of the commodification of humanity, seeing human beings as “use value” rather as an end to themselves. In the contemporary world we have a very negative attitude towards “begging”, and a clear division - begging is differentiated from charity. The Victorian divide between the deserving – “meek” and the undeserving – “free loader” still exists.
Charity in the Bibel was a synonim for love, but in the 19th century - charity and the diserving poor (not neighbourly love, but reward for approved conduct) What the liberal econemist insistes is that charity should nor provide the relife of need, but its selective use to preserve the incentive to wage labor.
This basically religious attitude has been criticized by many social critics. George Orwell writing in the 1930’s argues that beggars are ordinary human beings, not just outcasts, criminals or prostitutes. It is taken for granted that a beggar does not earn their living as a bricklayer or as a literary critic “earns” theirs, but if one looks closely there’s no essential differences between a beggar’s livelihood and that of countless respectable people. Beggars do not work it could be said, but then what is work? A road builder works by swinging a pick, an accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all kinds of weather, getting varicose veins, chronic bronchitis, etc. It’s a trade like any other; quite useless – but then, much respectable work is quite useless. Moreover, as a social type beggars compare well with many others. They are honest compared with the providers of advertising, high-minded compared with a tabloid newspaper proprietor, amicable compared with a hire-purchase tout – in short a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. Orwell concludes that the beggar seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, is that he pays for it over and over in suffering.
Jack London argued in How I became a Socialist (1903), that his tramping experiences revealed how the other half lived, how the “Submerged tenth” were recruited. On the road he saw what society was doing (and had done) to men who had had strength and youthfulness and that these men were now broken humans. These sights scared him, and he vowed never to be trapped by the forces that had ruined so many men and had driven them from their jobs, their homes and on to the road.
This beggars the question: why are beggars despised?– for they are almost universally despised. Orwell believes it is for the simple reason that they fail to earn a “decent” living. In practice, few care whether work is useful or useless, productive or parasitic; the sole thing demanded is that it shall be profitable. For most, it comes down to “Get money, get it legally, and get a lot of it”. Money has become the grand test of virtue, by this test beggars fail, and that is why they are despised.
This division can be seen at its strongest in the Protestant Work Ethic which advocates sobriety, diligence, thrift, and lack of ostentation; regarding contemplation as mere laziness, and poverty either as punishment for sin or evidence that one did not have God’s grace. The puritanical believed that only the so-called elect could expect salvation. They considered themselves elect but could not be sure unless they were given a “sign.” They believed their way of life was ethically correct and that it led to worldly prosperity. Prosperity was accepted as the sign. Goodness came to be associated with wealth, and poverty with evil; not to succeed in one’s calling seemed to be clear indication that the approval of God was being withheld. The behavior that once was believed to lead to sanctity led to worldly wealth.
The is an idea in our modern world that the survival of the fittest is achieved by sending the weak to the wall, but it is a mistake to suppose that because a man is weak he is necessarily contemptible. Failure is generally held in contempt because it is left to the successful to arrange vocabularies. At this point, I would like to examine the history of the relation of society to the vagabond.
“Doe we not all come into the worlde like beggars, without a rag upon us? Do we not all go out of the worlde like beggars, save an old sheete to cover us?”
The Vagabond – Liber Vagatorum
Every age has had its men (usually) of the road. “As long as the earth was thinly populated the vagabond could never become a nuisance; hospitality demanded that the stranger should be fed without question”. In primitive and sparsely populated lands, it can be seen as a wholly natural way of living. The golden age of the wanderer, the hiker, was the fourteenth century– of the tramp, the sixteenth. Between 1300 and 1400 the roads were crowded with Chaucerian pilgrims, on their way to shrines, universities or markets. There were roaming peddlers, Reliquaries, pardoners, degenerate friars and vagrant scholars. Before this time, it was still no disgrace for the wayfarer to beg for food. In Europe at certain times wandering has been a result of unemployment and industrial conditions and at others the nature of the people who take to it. The divide is between those who wander for “experiences” and those who are driven by need even “outlawry”.
Until the coming of the Mendicant Orders at the beginning of the thirteenth century, private alms giving and discretely administered charity were not subject to control. With the foundation of the Franciscans in 1209, and the constitution of the Dominicans as a Mendicant Order in 1220 (coinciding with the expansion of the universities) came an influx of wanderers. No less insistent in their demands were the intelligentsia of the time, wandering from country to country, university to university. Little more than 30 years after their founding the Friars were already becoming disreputable, until swept away by the reformation.
In the west the practice of individual charity was considered a religious obligation, the monasteries found themselves at the center of an increasing number of vagabonds, fuelled by alms-giving, crusades, pilgrimages, and the migration from university to university. However much suspected and frowned upon by secular authority, begging was not regulated against, it was considered better to give to those who deceived than not to give at all.
It is recorded that few students were able to return home except during Long Vacation and then only by begging their way there and back. University Students begging from house to house to spend a term at Oxford or Cambridge had to have a permit with the signature of the chancellor. The act of Richard II expressly provides that scholars of the universities who go begging shall have letters of testimonial from their chancellors. At this time, the scholars of Oxford and Cambridge swelled the ranks of begging vagrants.
Early English laws against vagrancy and begging give a strong hint to the fears of the law makers, the need to keep people in there place. In the reign of Henry VIII, impotent beggars were licensed, while all others, and wanderers particularly, were to be subject to a variety of punishments. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth vagrants were to be forced to work, wages would be fixed and laborers localized under pain of imprisonment and whipping. This era was verging on hysteria, prefiguring the “moral panics” of the 1960’s.
The 15th century saw Vagabondage firmly established as an integral part of the social structure. In England there were the general arrests of masterless men in 1569. The medieval knight-errant would have been hauled off to gaol as a sturdy rogue by the Elizabethans. Luther’s preface of Liber Vagatorum marks the starting point of the systematic measures directed against vagrancy in Germany. By 1342-3 certain classes of vagabonds at Augsburg were publicly proscribed and forbidden the city, municipal action was taken in Vienna (1443), Cologne (1446), Nuremberg (1478) and in Breslau a little latter (1512).
In the case of the church, its desire to keep control on the bestowing of bounties lead to a law directed against wandering monks, ordaining that they should receive hospitality only once, the beginning of the legislation which we see in Orwell’s day of driving the vagrant ever on, from one “grime work house” to the next. By 1360 the punishments for fleeing laborers and vagrants was whipping and branding the forehead with a hot iron.
The brotherhood of beggars in the middle ages was of men who had wedded themselves to poverty, brothers alike of birds and beggars, the Friars of Saint Francis of Assisi. The medieval tramp lived alone in forest and swamp. The Elizabethan tramp sang and made merry in the taverns of Whitefriars and the drains of Moorditch.
Unemployment is “the mother and breeder of Vagabonds”. In the 15th century, the enclosure of arable land for pasture dispossessed thousands who wandered, begged or stole for a living, until desperate need drove them on to the gallows. As the fat of the vagabonds declined, poetry (as it often does) began to ally itself to their cause.
The decay of feudalism, the growth of the bourgeoisie classes, and the reformation together produced an attitude of mind that could no longer tolerate the idle. Individual charity no longer took on to itself the responsibility of giving alms to all who cared to ask. Protestantism was shortly to reaffirm the Pauline dictum “He who will not work, shall not eat”. By Luther’s time Der Betlerorden “the Mendicant Brotherhood” was a name applicable equally to the Mendicant Religious or to the scum of society.
Karl Marx Capital volume 1 - part VIII - The So-called Primitive Accumulation saw this history in a different way, as part of the dialectical progress of history. That the proletariats were created by the breaking up of the bands of feudal retainers and by the forcible expropriation of the people from the soil– that this “free” proletariat could not be absorbed by the growing manufacturers as fast as they were thrown upon the world. These men, suddenly dragged from their way of life, could not and did not quickly adapt themselves to the discipline of their new condition. They were turned en masse into beggars, robbers, vagabonds, some from inclination, in most cases from circumstances. At the end of the 15th and during the whole of the 16th century, throughout Western Europe there was a bloody legislation against vagabondage. Marx sees the Vagabonds as the fathers of the present working class, chastised for their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers. The Legislation I have outlined treated them as “voluntary” criminals, and assumed that it depended on their own good will to go on working under the old conditions that no longer existed.
Vagabonding came and went with recurring social crises of the bourgeois age, I pick up the story again at the turn of this century. The vagrants - down-and-outs in the USA riding the trains after the American Civil War had by the turn of the century created a “Hobo” culture– living on the outskirts of towns in shantytowns. In the USA, the hobo begets the ride beggar who begets the HH.
The influences of 1920’s spelt a renaissance of young, more educated adventurers. With the burgeoning of HH in America there was a predictable backlash, and several states passed ordinances banning HH. During the depression in the 1930’s, the experience of HH was less happily exemplified by crime too and by HH. However, more importantly those who HH during the bad times went on to buy cars and pick people up themselves. After the depression HH recovered somewhat its “carefree” nature, students in California universities set-up HH clubs and held competitions to see who could cross the state or country first (the beginning of the university Rag sponsored HH to Paris which are still so popular in the UK). For a history of HH in the UK from 1914 to the early 1970’s read Mario Rinvolucri’s self published book Hitch-hiking.
I am partially interested in vagabonding from choice, on one side a rejection of material society - the begging priests, and the other from a curiosity about it - the itinerant scholars. In the 1930’s it was still possible for a young man to go out and discover the world. This was for the privileged, a lost “romantic” time. Patrick Leigh Fermor writing of his wandering in a Time for Gifts tells of his tramping trip from London to Constantinople. Fermor writes of the gift of a book from a vanishing European aristocracy. When in the village of Hohenaschau in the inn:
“it made me seem more exalted than the tramp I actually was when I put my new diary on the table, “what a beautiful book awed voices would say. Horny fingers reverently turned the pages... Latinisnisch? Well well... a spurious aura of scholarship and respectability sprang up”.
When he reaches Vienna he uses his introductions to re-enter the embrace of the affluent if not the respectable. Dumping his rucksack in the cheapest boarding house he telephones the sister in law of an old friend, and is invited to stay.
“But for the sake of morale, prompted by a sort of vagrants amour propre, I hadn’t wanted to launch myself on them when I was absolutely broke... burdened by a rucksack would have been too broad a hint. Unfounded although they had been, my qualms at the last castle had implanted the uncharacteristic notion in my mind that the appearance on the doorstep of an affable tramp with all his possessions on his back might possibly be considered a nuisance. (I shudder to think of the scourge I must have been). The idea that they are always welcome is a protective illusion of the young. Dangerously untroubled by doubts, I rejoiced in these changes of fortune with the zest of an Arabian beggar clad and feasted by the Caliph or the crapulous tinker who is picked up snoring and spirited to splendor in the first scene of The Taming of the Shrew.”
Hospitality is an important part of the Vagabonds experiences, Fermor staying in Veaner. The apartment is home to…
“a small half native and half expatriate Bohemian set… “wildish parties, music dancing dressing up... I awoke to the first strokes of noon with an exploding head still decked with a pirate’s eyepatch and a cut out skull and crossbones.”
From culture to nature, the vagabond experiences life from many different places.
“I felt very drowsy sitting in the sun. My path ran through a hazel wood where young Roe deer bounced nimbly away... Later, I must have been wandering along in a sort of a trance”
With the beginning of the Second World War, HH soon become semi-respectable again. With petrol rationing and national mobilization HH became a normal form of transport. For many people lift–giving was elevated into a patriotic duty. Mario Rinvolucri quotes an editorial in October 11th 1940 Autocar:
“Motorists - private owners - are not doing all they could do to help. It is a nuisance, this continual answering of appeals for lifts... But this is not the right attitude to adopt... Everything the car owner can do to aid fellow travelers - even if he gets nothing but thanks for it - is a real help to the national effort - every empty seat involves a waste of time, fuel and effort on someone else’s part. Motorists go to it!”
With the end of the war many young men and women returning from the horror of war used their new found freedom to take to the road in rejection of the stifling values of their time. An interesting book from this period is The Trio’s Trek an account of three, what seems to be very ordinary young women, HH journey from London to Nairobi in the late 1940’s. Traveling through post war Europe their experiences as women HH are very much those of contemporary even down to the fact that it is not until page 64 and their sixth country, that they got a lift with a private car driven by a woman. They had the usual advice about the dangers and impossibilities which most HH seem to receive. In North Africa the colonial French had warned them never to accept lifts with Arabs, in Algeria they decided this was impractical and a lift in the back of a banana lorry with 3 Arab men left their “throats still intact”. They did have some problems with men, but nothing more than adventurous women have to deal with in any occupation.
In the U.S., a new generation of HH was setting forth under the shadow of the atomic mushroom cloud, Holmes calls them “a beat generation”, searching for meaning apart from “small town America”. Jack Kerouac’s On the Road in 1956 heralded the beatniks and the post-war American re-romanticisation of the road.
In the 1960’s HH became a way of life for many young people. This continued into the 1970’s. With the 1980’s and the new “individualism” – that is conforming to the “Protestant work ethic” - materialist values again came to the fore. The 1980’s represented an interesting time for “vagrants” – liberation mirrored by repression, with the Thatcherite attack on new age travelers. Though people still HH, Rosita Boland writing in the early 90’s in Sea Legs recounts her solo HH trip around Ireland, apart from drunken men in bars and being slightly molested while sitting on the knee of middle aged truck driver, she successfully circumnavigated the coast of Ireland in the dead of winter. The cloak of fear spread by the murder of a German HH in the north did though affect Boland’s outlook and the same story affected me for a moment when I HH through Northern Ireland a few years later.
This history is tinged by nostalgia that describes our grief for a dead past, the way we sentimentalize over fleeting and forgotten things. Our modern idea of the HH has come from a long history both negative and positive. We look back with curious eyes, the villains become the romantics, and the sordid transformed into the picturesque. The HH is a descendent of the vagabond who surrounded by a romantic aura of hardihood, liberty and courage searches for a glimpse of freer more spacious times. We envy – romanticise - the vagabond or beggar because we ourselves are in “chains”, in each age the “conservative” forces have attempted to put such groups back in their place. This is clearly visible in the 1990’s with draconian laws against New Age travelers, harking back to Elizabethan days.
In the next section I go on to look at a sociological view of the 20th century HH, and contrast with this Marx’s idea of Alienation. These both have an assumption of meaning that I examine by looking at Existential philosophy.
Sociology, Ideology and Philosophy
The is very little on HH in the sociological literature, thus in this section I look at a wider question, one of motivation, and the sociological questions of what forces in society encourage and discourage the HH. I have an idea of a HH (more pacifically a subgroup) as one who is searching for “meaning” and whether that search is pushing or pulling them. I look at Peter Berger’s work; Marx’s idea of alienation, which to me seams to underline this project and finally question the possibility of self-motivation.
In The Homeless Mind Berger et al, argue that discontents and “counter culture” of his day are engendered by the institutional structures of modernity. These structures are created by what Max Weber calls “rationalization” which is inherent to the modernizing project. It imposes itself on the individual as control, limitation and thus frustration. This results in considerable psychological tension as the individual is forced to manage, in the technological sense, his or her life.
Berger argues that this works on many levels, that modern technological production brings about anonymity in the area of social relations. Thus the individual is not only threatened by the meaningless in the world of work, but also by the loss of meaning in wide sectors of his relation with other people. The very complexity of technological society makes more and more social relations opaque. Other individuals increasingly are experienced as agents of forces and collectivities that they do not understand. The modern individual has too many choices, technological production and bureaucracy takes the social institution beyond the understanding of the individual.
That the individual is “homeless”, this is the crux of the problem with the modernist idea, is modernity liberating? Or is it a social world that we need to be liberated from? This comes down to a value judgement in the case of this project Romanticism, the existential desire to “create” meaning in life or the desire to “conserve” - conformity and safety. Modernity has supremely liberated the individual, but has not provided them with a place to go. It has demolished our rood mud huts, but now we shiver in the unfamiliar urban surroundings that it has built in their place. We have lost our “ancient home” and have not found a new abode. The HH is searcher for an old house to live in or the possibility of finding/creating a new home.
Thus Alienation is the price of individualism, the “anti-modernist” or dare I say the word “post-modernist” movement, of which the romantic HH is a representative, can be seen as a criticism of the allegedly excessive individualism of modern society. “The individual is to be liberated from individualism to the solidarity of either old or new collective structures.”
Berger argues that the relations of the new world of childhood and youth to the discontents of modernity are important - the creation of childhood, the modernist division between the public and private sphere. The decline in infant mortality has lead to a “gentle revolution”, upper middle class parents are able to invest more emotional care in their children. That these children are used to being treated as uniquely valuable persons, accustomed to having opinions respected by all the significant people around them, unaccustomed to harshness, suffering and unprepared for intense frustration. Berger argues, without value judgement, that the youths of the bourgeois are “soft” and that it is exactly theses individuals who encounter the anonymous, impersonal “abstract” structures - alienation of the modern technological bureaucratic world. Their reaction is predictably one of rejection and rebellion. Free travel - free sex and free thought to entwine the two.
This highlighting the inherent tension that creates the rebellions of each generation, when times get good, the “good” get going. The youth of the affluent are cut off from the normative world of “public” life, they are “cosseted” in the private spheres of family, school and universities for increasingly long periods. To an extent in Berger’s day this was class specific, it was the upper middle classes that were affected the most. For the simple reason that they are the most “bourgeois”. The modern individual is “unfinished” as they enter adult life, they are not only “conversion-prone”, but glory in being so. “Biography is thus apprehended both as a migration through different social worlds and as the successive realization of a number of possible identities”
The individual experience of himself becomes more real to him than his experiences of the objective social world – make it up as you go along. Thus the individual seeks to find his “ground” in reality, in himself rather than outside himself. To create himself, the reflexive individual as Giddens calls him. The increasing globalization of “consciousness” has positive and negative connotations; it brings a sense of expansiveness and freedom on one hand and on the other, rootlessness and anomie.
For many progressive people socialism was the promise of a new home, to examine this I look at Marx idea of alienation. In many ways you can see that Burger’s ideas were built on top of Marx’s view, what Marx adds to the discussion is a meta-narrative to Berger’s immediate experiences of modern life, it sets it in motion. Marx theory of alienation at its base has an “idea - essences” of man as a free agent, the question, if this is so or not, has troubled Philosophers and social theorists since the beginning of time. To outline Marx’s theory in the context of the idealized HH that is one who searches for non-alienated existences. I have to first look at what Marx means by Alienation.
For Marx the origin of alienation is to be found in our economic system - that it treats us as a means to an end rather than an expression of our selves. Under capitalism we have little opportunity to express our personality in the creation of a product that we need to live. The base of the theory of alienation is that human beings, in comparison to animals, have the capacity to control nature by creative activity. Humans are homo faber; they create and recreate the means of their own existence – thus their very existences. Productive creativity actively holds the keys to human happiness and fulfillment. The condition of true humanity - “species-being” - is therefore the condition that abolishes alienated labor.
Marx argued that industrial capitalism is the worst form of alienated labor, for the workers are tied to the machine in the performance of meaningless tasks, which are part of a larger little understood process. Human creativity, and the product of it our work, is turned into an object to be bought for the cheapest price, the product of labour is owned and sold by the capitalist and so the harder the worker works the more they are exploited. The holder of capital claims the rights to control the whole of the labour process, leaving the workers creativity and intellect stifled and controlled by outside forces.
As the members of the working (subdued) class lack the means to produce for them selves they are forced to work for others. Leading in a fully capitalist economy all of the social productions of the necessity of life determined out side of man. The worker sees himself as a prisoner of market forces over which he has no control, at the whim of boom and bust which are inherent to the capitalist system. Work becomes a means to an end, a means of obtaining money to buy the goods and services necessary for their existences. The more the worker produces the more he loses himself. Bourgeois society is the ever-changing expression of this fault, the inherently unstable social antagonism of labour and capital.
The Vagabond has been one who rejected this alienation of self through commodified work whether from hedonism, idealism, or “idleness”. In all periods the have been some, particularly the pampered youth of Berger’s theory, who strike out to live life another way. The hatred and envy we see in the driver’s eyes is one of in Marx’s term’s it is the bourgeois playing at class warfare. They are not paying their way and proud of it – “soft revolutionaries”.
Marxism is a good theory for HH rejecting any moral underpinnings, for morality is a “socially constructed ideology”, it is a reflection of our alienated selves rather than the rock on which we stand. Marx explicitly and consciously rejects any reliance upon speculative a priorism. Though the HH may agree with Marx - Marx would have rejected the escapism and romanticism of the HH as a facet of bourgeois ideology.
Marx’s notion of freedom is an open one, that is it is not confined to any preconceived idea of what individual emancipation should be, rather that individuals are capable of self creation, they should be able to build there own liberty. Underlying Marx’s theory is the idea that once liberated from the draining constraints of ignorance, poverty and oppression, human agents would be able to lead fulfilling and socially constructive lives, unhindered by base passions and short-sighted objectives that the bourgeois materialist values embodied. The HH is expressing a human need- travel is the new opium - I think Marx would see their actions not going beyond idealism or utopian socialism at the strongest.
For Marx it is not enough to “run away”, the HH is opting out of the necessity of class struggle, thus are representation of little more than bourgeois dilettanteism. Marx recognizes that self-determination is a genuine human need and that social emancipation and individual freedom are interdependent. A Marxist principle of liberty in action would protect the social individual from those who would impose their own notion of freedom on others, and by the same notion it could be invoked to restrain those who might wish to revert to circumstances which inhibit the expression of self-determination. HH would be fine after the revolution, but the revolution comes first.
I cannot help feeling that Marx himself is falling into the utopian mould, is “human nature - essences” so open to change, can we build a non alienating society? Can we be free and simultaneously secure. To examine this question I look at existential philosophy.
The French philosopher Sartre follows Marx’s theory of alienation- Humanity’s primary distinction is the freedom to choose. That human beings do not have a fixed nature, or essence, as other animals and plants do; each human being makes choices that create his or her own nature. In the formulation of Sartre, existence precedes essence. Choice is therefore central to human existence, and it is inescapable; even the refusal to choose is a choice. Freedom of choice entails commitment and responsibility. Because individuals are free to choose their own path, existentialists have argued, they must accept the risk and responsibility of following their commitment wherever it leads.
Sartre in Being and Nothingness conceived humans as creating their own world by rebelling against authority and by accepting personal responsibility for their actions, unaided by society, traditional morality, or religious faith. For Sartre what distinguishing between human existence and the non-human world is that human existence is characterized by nothingness, that is, by the capacity to negate and rebel. His theory of existential asserted the inescapable responsibility of all individuals for their own decisions and made the recognition of one’s absolute freedom of choice the necessary condition for authentic human existence.
In Either/Or Kierkegaard described two spheres, or stages of existence, that the individual may choose: the aesthetic and the ethical. The aesthetic way of life is a refined hedonism, consisting of a search for pleasure and a cultivation of mood. The aesthetic individual constantly seeks variety and novelty in an effort to stave off boredom but eventually must confront boredom and despair. The ethical way of life involves an intense, passionate commitment to duty, to unconditional social, and for Kierkegaard, religious obligations. To avoid ultimate despair, the individual must make a “leap of faith”, which is inherently paradoxical, mysterious, and full of risk.
The individual is, however, always in danger of being submerged in the world of objects, everyday routine, and the conventional, shallow behavior of the crowd. The feeling of dread (Angst) brings the individual to a confrontation with death and the ultimate meaninglessness of life, only in this confrontation can an authentic sense of being and of freedom be attained.
As the existentialists argue the rejection of the old leaves the new with no foundation, our endeavors are to build “castles in the air”. This lonely individualism, the senseless mobility from place to place, job to job, relationship to relationship, commodity to commodity, idea to idea, in short a rootless and restless existence, absurd in its busyness, can be seen in a view represented in main stream sociology by Durkheim, in his study of Suicide – the title itself perhaps an unintentional metaphor for the state of Western culture, the loss of community.
Are these philosophical ideas poor sociological models of humanity? Do they look at incomplete humanity, humanity isolated? To be complete, human, we have to participate fully in the life of society and express all our nature. For this to be, some impulses must be checked in the interests of society and others in the interest of individual development. It is in this relatively unimpeded natural growth and self-realization that makes for the good life and harmonious society. Are Durkheim’s norms necessary chains, the most important chain is that human life is worth living, or possibly be made worth living. This judgement underlies all intellectual effort; it is a priori of social theory and its rejection (which is logical) rejects theory interlay.
Research and Survey: An Investigation into Modern Hitch-Hiking Methods and Morals.
HH experiences and biographies form most of the “data” underlining the findings of this survey. At this point I think it will be useful to include a few in-depth HH biographies.
In this edited interview a young American man tells of his introduction to HH, it illustrates the worry facing the perspective “beggar”:
“I first HH when I run out of money and my railpass ran out, it was a new experience… The are no HH in USA it is not even considered. In the US people don’t trust… I sore Ireland and England as happy places the image that people are friendly.
Bus from Heathrow to Oxford then HH to Manchester… Walked out of Oxford and started HH… I felt like a degenerate. I was picked up and saw others HH, I was not an abnormal as I would be in America, I felt human again. My first lift was with an old woman in a station wagon… Then from Manchester to Holyhead and the around Ireland.”
What do you talk about?
“Conversations always started with how long, where from… this type of conversation small talk, family history nothing exciting or rarely stimulating, I fall asleep… I do talk about American politics… Worst Manchester to Holyhead, cranky chain smoker. I went to sleep.”
“South Dublin to the Strand 20mins, old gentleman he spoke very slowly and pensively, told me a great story about Ireland in the 20s about a friend who decided to leave Ireland to join the military and go to India. Worked in India for a while then to S Africa.
Human industry into a symbol of locomotion I do not see hitchhikers as a parasitic force… It is an even exchange… a world of lost time no real disadvantage for the driver, a small amount of risk - greater for the HH, am I going to murder the driver I cannot drive so split with the car. They can screw you over. The person who has the car has the responsibility for driving. I had a scary trip a guy had been driving for twenty-eight hours kept sliding all over the autobahn and falling asleep.
Countries with HH show a higher level of courtesy cultures more attuned to other peoples needs rather than locking themselves away in there own personal car out of fear. I highly recommend it, Potential for greatness.”
20 year old male Australian/American collage dropout in Prague, HH interview p4
A German graduate student tells of her fears, experiences and danger, for young women it is not unusual to start HH with out parental permission or knowledge. It is much more respectable for young men to HH though some did report that they didn’t tell their parents of their HH trips.
First HH experience?
“I was 16 on a bike trip… forgot something… exciting in the middle of the forest a lift in a big van with lots of forest workers. Back in Mercedes he would not stop but drove around the corner where he could stop… no reason to be scared.”
The first long trip?
“a holiday in France two girls we were supposed to take the train but HH from hostel to hostel…”
“Lots of funny experiences 10 years ago in France two guys in dust cart collecting rubbish quite stinky but very nice… milk lorry stopped at each shop great. Had a lift with a biologist in Ireland who drove from beach to beach taking samples and go swimming for a day.”
“Only HH on holiday in Ireland… two girls we stood there for ages in the rain in NW Galway Co. Mayo. 4 blokes stopped we got in… was funny would not let us sit together, then started touching told them to stop we got out… We were quite helpless if they had not stopped… They were English tourists”
Young German Women Edinburgh University HH interview p26
A relatively long account of a young mans HH experiences in Europe, it shows the ups and downs of the HH experiences. The HH as a “parasite” and as a guest.
First time HH?
“I was sick of Paris… a battered briefcase fairly tattered clothes and took a train out of Paris… stood by the highway watching, put my thumb out someone stopped but all going back to Paris. I went further and accepted a lift back to Paris… local accountant picked me up as he thought that my car had broken down, after that I had no fears of HH. I did not speak French.
From Frankfurt to Munich, I can remember every ride… HH is tedious at times. Always picked up in resthofs on German autobahns… Search for car with the number plate from anywhere you want to go, talk to the drivers almost always give you a ride whether they like you or not. I don’t care that I impose on people it becomes a habit… If you are sleeping in barns and only eating bread rolls for a week you become hardened, you don’t care.
Best lift from Salzburg to Berlin, I was picked up by some Prussian businessman… driving an Alfa Romeo, 2 am autobahn screeches to a halt window down… you can see he is completely ripped on Hashish and beer and ecstasy on front seat is a porn magazine and pills… who had at age15 gone to Spain with a pair of shoes and some jeans. He met with the owner of a guest house free accommodation for three months for translation for German tourists, then small hash deals 20yrs later fat short corpulent guy classic class enemy of HH. He works in reconstruction industry buying sixteen Caterpillars, offered bed for the night at hotel he is building we drink, he went to sleep I went to sleep. He went to meeting and gave me 50 marks to buy breakfast I spent the next weeks walking in this incredible lakeside country enough money to live on for several weeks. The bad one I tend to erase from my memory.
Rides from totally unfriendly people in the wrong direction I pretend to agree with them An Austrian gun maker, hand made for hunters, awful about Africans, and I just listened.
Best rides are from people who have HH themselves I stayed with a carpenter in Munich for two weeks to baby-sit his kids I met him going into the city… If you are stuck opportunities for jobs accommodation generate themselves… This woman who offered me the bed her son was 17 studying in Dublin, I had his bedroom full of 17yr olds toys, they did not talk to me too much they simply let me sleep in this bed. The husband was from Germany a Bauhaus designer… he became a spy in East Germany. He told me about New York. They were very lonely I played their son for the day I really needed mothering.
Picked up by a truckload of hippies in Dusseldorf commune in Osnabruck living for a week, friend went mad, forcibly taken by ambulance… later I went to visit him. It becomes a way of every day life.
There is a famous roundabout Hamburg to get to Berlin they will queue a blonde girl arrived and cars stopped for the girl she said it is not my turn, and one of other scruffy HH was away.
My philosophy “movement by jerks” or “Brownian Motion” completely random just get on the autobahn… It is very democratic you have to meet people, I feel part of a diaspora of well-educated bums living off the local population giving more than I get.
I hated Denmark so I want to find the real Scandinavia nice place rich dour safe I was there with no money shoplifting cheese from supermarkets I felt like such a mongrel I really wanted to share their cooperative values, but I had to live, I really craved all that. I could not do that I felt shitty I went back to Australia and lived with my folks for six months just doing the middle class thing. I think it is funny being separated from all the material things when you are travelling you realise what you miss I missed my record collection travelling independently strips you of everything all the self perception you thought you had and leaves you with a dull sense of what you might be.”
A friend was HH in Russia was picked up by some Mafeoseas in a big car. Guys in suits 3 of them I am now going to shut up only knows few words of Russian lets call it a Volga “Volga very good car very good car” looking at him in the mirror no eye contact, very good suits, “I have got it you are Mafia, yes, yes.” They love him from that moment on, all of a sudden he embodies all that is American cool which they always want to be ripping along finally get to the turn off to their village car drives past they flag down a Lada gives the driver some money guy jumps out of the Lada takes the bags come with me drives me all the way to the village, Mafia car follows to the turn off and waves.
Young Australian man in Prague HH interview p5
An older female ex-HH touches on HH with children, which I haven’t had time to go into in depth in the right-up.
“I would choose one of the children as company and as a chaperone and took off to visit art galleries, museums, communes and women and art conferences. The children enjoyed the individual attention, the experience expanded their horizons. They were a good buffer to diffuse conflict and unwanted sexual approaches I gave up HH when I no longer had my children as chaperones.
64 old British women talking about her experiences in the 1970’s HH interview p27
Finally, an ex-HH and driver explains why she does not pickup HH any more.
“I had to go to France to see my great uncle.”
Why did you HH?
“No money went to Egypt.... I would not have done it on my own, with my boyfriend… Students did it the only way of getting around, no money and as quick, I was a pragmatic HH… I had no adventures, easy, a good trip - a empty coach across the Alps… stayed in Youth Hostels in Naples, boat to Athens, boat to Egypt, HH in Germany. HH in the UK often, gave it up when I got a 50cc motorcycle and job.
Have given up picking up HH - On M62 I picked up this guy who stank the children did not like it, things were getting scary, scare stories in the media in the 80s women HH, the vulnerable as a single driver. My children have never HH. I hope that my daughter would not HH on her own.”
53 year old British women HH interview p28
Why do people HH?
“I first started to hitch in Europe, during the summer of 1991. I was travelling abroad for a year or so, and while visiting an uncle in Austria was convinced by a close friend of his, that hitch-hiking was a necessity. That you haven’t really traveled Europe until you’ve hitched it, that there was an experience behind hitching not at all obvious at a casual glance, an adventure, an uncertainty, a romance. That you meet the wildest people, local people, and the journey becomes the ends not merely the means.”
HH culture is a community of drivers and HH, a virtuous circle. During the fieldwork trip to Istanbul 80% of the drivers who picked me up had HH themselves. This was backed-up by the findings in the UK and second trip to Russia. In the interviews of HH this was also a recurring theme. Those who pickup HH have been or have a close friend or relative who have HH.
Drivers stop for HH because they have largely developed a “humanistic” instinct that is born from HH culture and is maintained by HH culture. HH is thus a manifestation of something greater and bigger – a world more filled with co-operation and utopianism, and the desire to look beyond themselves and experience other expressions of humanity. These values are expressed through practical action.
This romantic view is, of course, mirrored by a more pragmatic and traditional view people pick up HH for practical reasons – someone to talk to, someone to keep them awake, someone to share motorway tolls. The man picks up the young women for the sexual thrill of proximity.
To sum up: People HH from practical reasons; to explore and sense adventure; to meet new people and experience new cultures; to contact humanity directly, to experience fate and virtue - life first hand; to feel the community that has been lost from everyday life.
Where do they come from and were do they go?
People generally HH because of lack of access to transport, it is only recently that car ownership has become more universal in Europe as a whole. An Ex-East German tells how it was before Europe became a “car owning democracy”:
“Most young people now have cars, you used to order a car at the age of 18 and wait for ten years. Then it was a Trabant.”
Ex-East German 30 year old male HH interview p2
The are some who could pay for a ticket but from romantic idealism and the desire to “extend – go further” in there journey, choices to HH. This HH from choices is fed by literature and youthful rebellion – for example in the 1950’s Kareouc and the beat poets, 1960’s hippies were sighted as inspiration for HH adventures. The rejection of the “materialist” fetters of there parents expectations, the desire to be, in a world that is, to find the world anew - romanticism.
“I came to Germany - searching for a country which does not exist any more. Germany was interesting - but sterile - a huge industrial machine. Not at all decadent, no smell of Weimar republic at all.”
20 year old male Australian college dropout searching for the romance of “old” Europe. HH interviews p4
”When I was 15 or 16 I started HH to go on holiday, the was a hippie feeling in the GDR. Eight yeas ago, I have been on HH trips to Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia… I traveled with very little money, would take small plastic bags of coffee and cigarettes to use as presents or barter... A socialist statement that we are all equal, it was normal to give the driver a small present. Very friendly, but we had to be very careful Romania could be dangerous.”
Ex-East German 30 year old male HH interview p2
Generally need breeds HH, but the is a need for prior contact with HH culture, it can run in the family or a HH can be taken in hand by a “mentor”. Each HH journey starts with a small step, from village, to town, to city, across a border – the world opens to a brave inquisitive vagabond.
Why do people stop? It seams increasingly that rising material wealth and expectations have relegated HH to the sidelines of main stream culture. Getting a car is cited as the most common reason given in the study. Even the poor can have access to a car.
“The best moments of my life I spend HH… I started teaching at a huge 1,000 pupil private school were only 1 student had a car, now I teach at a much smaller and poorer school with only 300 students -20 have cars and 20 have motorbikes. The rise of car culture the decline of HH culture.”
Middle Aged French Art teacher in the Pyrenese driver interview no18
Age it self plays a role - young HH say that HH is a “studenty” thing to do, thus it is a period of transition before work and material comforts. More mature HH cite the physical and emotional hardship of HH, which becomes more difficult to sustain, people grow more attached to “creature comforts”. However, is age a physiological thing or perception of what we should be? That is the expectation of who a HH should be - a student - and the ending of this statues. Asking older drivers who have HH they stress the lack of time, control and physical discomfort of HH for not doing it any more. Experience, violence and disappointment? Fear, real or imaginary, I feel the bad experiences are magnified by age - so age seems to be the key.
Thus HH can be seen as a transitory means of life - transport, and for some a combination of the two. But a transition to what? This question I have examined in the theory section.
“The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking”
Fundamentally, HH takes the traveler to where he or she wants to go, and many times to places were they never though of going. It provides the random element to challenge our preconceived ideas of people, region and culture. So if it is so good, where is the down side? HH report that most of the problems involved in HH can be avoided with a little “nose”, by using they’re ability to size people up, to use “common sense”, as in other interactions in normal life. Are people robbed, raped and murdered? Yes as in any other pursuit: package holidays, drinking in pubs, letting the electrician into read the meter and other common actions. In this section, I first look at the positive which most of my data represents, before touching on the widely held and reported darker side.
In the interviews, “cheapness” was a dominant theme. In Eastern Europe HH because it is basically free was, and still is for many, the only means for young people to see the west after the fall of the iron curtain. With luck and endurance, a traveler can make it across a country for free and a continent for the price of a national rail ticket. The only expenses, if the HH is prepared to rough it, are food and entertainment, and drivers often provide these.
“When I was 16 or 17 - France to Italy, I had no money… better to hitch… not by train, to expensive and do not meet people… not a tourist.”
First HH trip 21-year old French women, Edinburgh university HH interviews p23
Lifts will generally be friendly and pleasant, if the driver did not want the HH company he or she wouldn’t have picked the HH up. Travelling by HH throws together people in an unstructured setting where neither will probably see the other again, which providing a space for a kind of intensity and freedom rare in modern society. As my survey, data shows the majority of people who pick up HH are safe, middle class, educated and liberal. Middle aged (42%); educated (54% graduates), Middle Class (78% skilled, professional and students)
“I am usually so excited so I initiate the conversation I love languages it is an adventure to find a language.”
Middle aged German male Prague -HH interview p23
“People who are doing bad are not doing HH, they are doing other methods”
Male middle aged Greek driver interview 51 fieldwork diary.
HH has a very special rhythm of travel, a normal journey made by car is often constant, to HH the same route you will experience a changing rhythm, from one lift to the next, long periods of waiting, during which the HH is exposed to the landscape and elements. When driving you can stop, but this just does not happen, thus the HH experiences “forced” immersion in both the social and geographic culture.
The HH experiences can be interesting - Lifts given by truck drivers, businessmen, housewives, drug dealers, lawyers, political radicals, conservatives, priests, salesmen and dropouts who are more than happy to tell the traveler all about their own lives and aspirations, which for the driver and HH usually beats listening to muzak.
“I have been to places I would never have gone, the journey not the destination, wonderful people.”
Young American man HH interviews p23
HH can be a very quick means of transport, on the way back from Russia I was HH from Cambridge to Oxford, this is a very difficult route to travel as the is no direct road. I had considered taking the bus but it took 5 hours and cost £7, I was standing on the road the bus drove by, the next truck stopped and I was dropped in Oxford 2 hours before the bus, with memories of the ins and outs of the antiques business – an interesting lift with a buyer driving a truck load of antiques from Eastern Europe. HH to a schedule is less satisfactory.
“HH as a means of transport has many problems, but as a means of travelling it can be excellent”.
Young English man at the Greek border project diary
It can be luxurious, in a chauffeur driven car, or high up above the traffic in an intercontinental truck. The driver often involves the HH in their lifestyle, low or high with food hospitality and entertainment of the driver’ choice. A warning on the excesses of hospitality is the 6-day lift with a Turkish Truck driver in the project diary.
“Within the half hour a brand new black taxi pulls up. An extremely rare sight in the Czechoslovakia of the time and a great surprise to me, not exactly in need of a taxi. It’s a young Slovak driver and I explain to him that I’m hitching to Vienna and in no need of a taxi. No, no, he says to me, I’m off duty and on my way to Vienna myself, hop in. It turns out that he drives to Vienna on a regular basis working illegally as a waiter over there. He earns in one night as a waiter in Vienna what he earns in a whole week driving taxis in Bratislava!”
Bernd Wechner, from internet memoirs chapter 1
For many people HH is a first taste of independence from parental control, it is seen as an adventure - dangerous and exciting. As I have said before, it is a means to be free both from social norms and the cash nexus which binds us to them.
“Bloody hell yes it was good… On the road you feel very much alive as if your actions and thoughts really matter exhilarating you can deal with it you have to be prudent we are very careful, recognize mannerisms… You are out there on your own facing nature it is brilliant all experiences add to it…Gave me idea of how lovely people can be… You do not see people in black and white you tend to use your brain a bit more.”
20 year old English women from Edinburgh university talking about one of her first HH trips with a women friend, HH interviews p25
There is a public and official rejection reflected in many media horror stories. I give selection of recent newspaper reports and a dangers HH moment in former Yugoslavia. HH can be dangers and boring like any walk in life, as on of my respondents says “it has the potential for greatness”. Which lifts it outside of the everyday, and puts the risks into perspective, alongside crossing the road, breathing city center rush hour air, amongst the many “irrationalities” of living in the modern world.
Israel came up a number of times in the discussions and interviews during fieldwork, the was a feeling that historically is was very good country to HH, but now the is a general ill-ease. Yet people still do HH.
“British tourists planning to visit Israel were warned by the Foreign Office last night to be extremely careful and to avoid the occupied areas. The two Britons shot yesterday were hitchhiking from the beach resort of Eilat to a tourist attraction at Mitzpe Ramon, in the Negev Desert. The Foreign Office said that, while both areas were fairly safe, travelers ran unnecessary risks by accepting lifts from strangers.”
The Times Newspaper - 14 August 1997
The case of Fred West was notorious, one of the people talked to during the fieldwork related how he thought West and Rosemary picked him up in the 1970’s.
“A WOMAN subjected to a violent sexual attack by Rosemary and Fred West was later given cups of tea and asked if she would like to resume her job as the family nanny, a court heard yesterday. Ms Owens said she had first met the Wests in October 1972 when she was 17. She had been hitchhiking and they had pulled up in their Ford Popular and had taken her home, offering her a job as nanny to their daughters. She had been pleased to see Mrs West in the car because… it made her feel safer. A few days later the Wests met her parents and repeated their job offer… “Fred said it was better when he took Rosemary with him because having another woman in the car they [the girls] thought it was safe.” She added: “Fred said he preferred young runaways because they had nowhere to go.” Mrs West heard this and later told her that it was the truth, she added.”
The Guardian 11 October 1995
This Australian case affected many Australians attitude to HH, though they still seamed to find HH in Europe to be a “romantic” possibility.
“Serial killer gets life in backpackers case Roger Maynard, Sydney AN AUSTRALIAN roadworker was sentenced to life in prison yesterday after being found guilty of the murders of seven backpackers, including two British women, who were lured to their deaths as they toured the country.”
Sunday Times, 28 July 1996
An account by a HH of a kidnapping in a danger zone.
“Once in Bosnia with 2 friends, one girl friend… Mostar to Sarajevo, get lift with a man to Sutinar, to graveyard to a funeral of three girls had died in a car accident we joined in the procession a police officer claimed to be a police officer wanted to take us in for questioning, drove us off the road… we were making jokes about gangster films were they take you to a back road to shoot you. He drove into an abandoned village into an abandoned building and pulled out a gun when he put his gun on my friend I ran, I ran off the road I stopped and heard of someone pursuing me. It was my girl friend we ran together to a little village and knocked on someone’s door they called the police the man let my friend go. As a HH you are vulnerable you have to trust but then you are open to miracles.”
22 year old American male, HH interview Prague p22
The countries in which I carried out my research were divided between rich western, poor eastern and ex-Soviet European countries and the boundaries between Islam, Christianity, Orthodox and Roman Catholic religion. As a western traveler money is worth so much in the Eastern Block and in the poorer countries that HH to an extent is not worth while if other transport was available. In the West it comes down to the Cash Nexus, if the transport was cheap people use the train or bus if they are available rather than HH. In poorer countries hitchhiking is often the only way of getting to a destination without buying or hiring independent transport. In some areas of some countries even this is not an alternative. In countries were HH is “institutionalized” these divisions are not applicable HH is public transport.
A brief summing up of HH expectations, the interview, literature, biographies and guidebook experiences in each of the countries visited in the fieldwork. The text in bold Italics is the recommendations from The ISIC student Travel Handbook 1997/98. This is provided as a impression rather than a statement of fact, to help the reader get an understand there variables involved in European HH.
UK – is generally considered one of the best countries in Europe to HH.
HH is no longer popular in the UK
France – is by reputation a difficult country, though my experiences was good and the people who I talked to who had actually HH in the country rather than just heard stores, shared this opinion. In my diary the is a feeling of a more tolerant history of revolution and the respectability of challenging authority, drivers and HH expressed Kerouac, Rousseau and Bohemian romanticism.
France is one of the most difficult countries in Europe for HH. Its best to look respectable as possible and a backpack will help.
Germany – is the “meeker” for HH, for many HH there is a view that HH is institutionalised amongst young German students. This I think is an over statement. In the former GDR as with much of Eastern Europe HH was a normal means of travel, car shares were negotiated by the roadside.
HH is not a particularly safe way of getting around.
Czech Republic – a strong history of HH in the communist area throughout the Soviet block. After the wall fell there was a wave of Czech HH into the west. Increasingly now the is a real divide between rich and poor, which leaves those who have access to cars less willing to pickup those who do not.
HH is generally a good option.
Slovak Republic– is similar to the Czech republic, but worse, unspoken but more extreme, increasingly people fear the Mafia. Those who have money are in increasingly sharp contrast to those who do not. Very few international travelers of any sort.
HH is a very popular way of getting around for young people.
Hungary, Romania Bulgaria – I traveled with a Turkish trucker and mixed with the Turkish enclaves the only nationals I meet where prostitutes. There were many native HH but non-of the international crowd.
HH is legal, but definitely not advisable.
HH is a popular way for young people to get around.
HH is not recommended.
Turkey - again I did not HH, but interviewing travelers and an overview of travel guides suggests that for short distance HH is universal but the longer distances are served by comfortable coaches. The are many story’s and biographical accounts of overwhelming Turkish hospitality, it seams it is very rear for a westerner to pay for a lift.
HH is possible but not recommended – you may be asked to pay for up to ½ the bus fare.
Greece – All my driver interviews and conversations with natives stressed the problem of illegal aliens – Iraqis and Kurds in the south, Albanians in the north, Greece is an interesting example of a country were HH is near impossible for fear of the “other”.
HH is not advisable for women travelling alone.
Italy – I do not have much information or data on HH in Italy though the is a repartition for sexism and the danger of macho driving. And on a positive side a very strong tradition of hospitality. (see internet WWW Auto Stop – Room 8250 at www.geocities.com)
HH is an option but it is not common in the south… not advisable for a woman travelling alone.
Switzerland - I have little data, the people seem to be friendly though as a HH you can’t help but feel untidy.
Belgium – has a bad reputation, I cannot see why.
HH is not very popular.
Poland – HH was actively encouraged in the Communist era, until about 10 years ago it was not at all unusual to see old ladies and school girls standing by the road. As with the rest of Eastern Europe with the changing of the political culture things have become more difficult for HH.
“Poland best for HH it was state sponsored, get cards fill in, driver can win a lottery prize.”
25 year old man Prague HH interview p6
HH is a popular way of getting around the country for young people.
Lithuania – I have little data, HH seams to be perfectly possible, the Vilnius Hitch-hiking Club (www-public.osf.It) is one of the most best HH sights on the internet. As a westerner, it would be very unusual to be asked to contribute towards the cost of fuel. Much more likely you the HH would be feed and offered a bed for the night at the families drivers house. (See the fieldwork diary)
HH is common practice between major city’s and holiday destinations but you will be expected to contribute to the fuel costs.
Latvia – similar to the other Baltic states.
Russia – As with any thing with Russia I have herd conflicting stores. My experiences, and I talked to many HH in St Petersburg and at the Rainbow Gathering festival (1998) was one of a renaissance of Russian HH. I interviewed two young women who HH alone thousands of Km one from Siberia and the other from the Caucasus, they had no problems governing such distances. There is a strong tradition of “HH” Electriska local trains – hoboing – amongst the young. If they are caught they can convincingly argue poverty. The guards have a “socialists mentality” they are really sanctioned.
HH is not common and is risky
Estonia – is possible, when I was HH in 1992 I had just sneaked across the border from Russia as I didn’t have a Russian visa, and the Estonian border guards wanted $70, a young police man flagged down a car and arranged a lift to Tallinn the capital.
HH is common practice.
Finland – HH is possible but doesn’t seam common.
HH is generally easy, especially on busy roads.
Sweden – HH can be difficult in Sweden.
HH can be difficult in Sweden
Denmark – seams about the same as in England.
HH is difficult, not really worth the hassle.
Data from Edinburgh to Istanbul Fieldtrip
During the fieldwork as well as HH numerous times around the UK, I undertook two major fieldwork trips. The first from Edinburgh to Istanbul which most of the illustrating data in this project is from, I include the diary and driver interviews in the Appendix 1. The second is to be turned into a video documentary next year.
A basic statistical break-down of the 74 lifts in 13 countries from Portsmouth to Istanbul and back to London from 4 of July to the 12th September 1997.
A total of 3542 miles as the crow flies, probably over 5,000 miles meandering by thumb. The shortest lift was a few Km on the Turkish Greek border on the back of a tractor trailer, the longest over 700 mile for 6 days in a Turkish truck from Hungary to Istanbul, via Romania and Bulgaria.
Driver and Passengers
A majority (78%) of lifts with men, roughly quarter made up of couples, women and children.
Age of Driver
Middle aged people pickup HH, though this may be a reflection of who the HH is.
Education of Driver
T he majority have university education, though taking the no answers, which reflects in part difficulty of communication, this is probably more even. Still compared with a European average that is an over representation of educated people.
Job of Driver
Skilled Manual or Clerical
A large proportion of “middle class” drivers (78% including students)
Has the Driver HH
The majority have HH in the past – HH pickup HH
This project is very much incomplete, I have only directly drawn from a third of the data I collected; although the project as a whole is informed by all the research. Next year I hope to finish the video documentary, which makes up the data from the Russian trip and have an offer from web publisher, meaning all the material will be available on the web from the summer.
I give here a brief outline of the areas that I would consider in a more expanded and comprehensive study.
The Rich West versus the Poor East.
Look more into the role economics plays in the prevalence of HH.
The rainbow gathering – privileged anti-modernism
I lived at two rainbow gatherings during the field work, hard to tell defiantly but many perhaps as much as ½ of the 1,000’s of people who attend these post-hippie festivals arrived by some for of HH or hoboing. It would be interesting to put more work into how the HH is apparent in the counter cultural atmosphere of the rainbow gathering.
This is an essential area for studying HH – looking at the finished work I am shocked to find that I have not really touched on it.
How do people HH what is the etiquette? The expectations and techniques do differ.
Needs to looked into, I have some data spread over 21 country’s, in Latvia the are 5 words for HH, in Poland people used to undulating there arms, instead of using their thumb. Though this is changing as prostitutes who crowed the roads near borders use this sign to attract their clients.
HH from different nationalities
Europe and the nationalities question - I have only touched on.
The idea of post-modern capitalism and the spread of vagabond culture
How “post-modern” capitalism makes cultural vagabonds of us all. Workers because of short contract culture, become a mobile disposable unit of production in the fluidity of free market economics. People move to find stability, you can see the conquest of the USA as a “nation” of vagabonds searching for a home. “Even if their ancient trade has fallen into disrepute, every nation is a nation of vagabonds grown respectable”.
Women and the HH experiences
Because of its ethnographic nature and the limitation on resources available, this project dose not focus on the female perspective. It would be necessary to do further research.
HH from the drivers perspective
Again because space restraints I do not expand on HH from the driver perspective.
This project has concentrated on the “youthful” romantically self-motivated HH, who rejects the certainties of the “normal” world to embrace the chances and opportunity of the open road. It highlights the tension between those who drive and those who stand by the road, viewing the HH - beggar as an incitement to those paying their way.
HH experiences and biographies form most of the “data” underlining the findings of this survey. In second section of the project Research and Survey: An Investigation into Modern Hitch-Hiking Methods and Morals. I have looked at why people HH, there early experiences. The research work clearly shows that people who pickup HH have HH themselves. HH culture is a community of drivers and HH, a virtuous circle, for the HH the road ultimately ends at home.
People have generally HH because of lack of access to transport; it is only recently that car ownership has become more universal in Europe as a whole. Generally need breeds HH, but the is a need for prior contact with HH culture, it can run in the family or a HH can be taken in hand by a "mentor". It seams increasingly that rising material wealth and expectations have relegated HH to the sidelines of main stream culture. “The best moments of my life I spend HH… The rise of car culture the decline of HH culture.” Age plays a role - young HH say that HH is a “studenty” thing to, more mature HH cite the physical and emotional hardship of HH, which becomes more difficult to sustain, older drivers who have HH stress the lack of time and control involved.
HH has a very special rhythm of travel, a normal journey made by car is often constant, to HH the same route you will experience a constantly changing rhythm, from one lift to the next, long periods of waiting, during which the HH is exposed to the landscape and elements. Are people robbed, raped and murdered? I give selection of recent newspaper reports and a dangerous. HH can be dangers and boring, like any walk in life, as on of the respondents says, “it has the potential for greatness”.
The HH is ground in a historical setting, a long history of the beggar, tramp and vagabond. This history can be traced back to the 12th century, its roots in mendicant orders, wondering tradesman and intelligentsia tramping from country to country, university to university. A traditional view sees them as parasites on the healthy body of society. Karl Marx sees these vagabonds as the peasants of the old feudal order, ripped from their homes, the fathers of the present working class, chastised for their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers. For me a problem of the comodification of humanity, seeing human beings as “use value” rather as an end to themselves Orwell’s in the 1930’s in Down and Out in Paris and London criticize the negative view of beggars, our modern idea of the HH has come from a long history both negative and positive.
In the USA, the hobo begets the ride beggar who begets the HH. In the 1930’s Fermor outlined what a modern HH would consider the ideal of HH Hospitality, from culture to nature, the vagabond experiences life from many different places. The descendent of the vagabond has been surrounded by a romantic aura of hardihood, liberty and courage the searching for a glimpse of freer more spacious times. At the beginning of the Second World War HH becomes more respectable, leading to a huge increase into the 1960’s and 1970’s. Literature and youthful rebellion feed HH from choice in the 1950’s Kareouc and the beat poets in 1960’s hippies were an inspiration.
To attempt to explain this from a sociological perspective I looked at Peter Berger work, he argues that the modern individual has lost the “meaning” in everyday life, that individuals are faced with too many choices. That technological production and bureaucracy takes the social institutions beyond the understanding of the individual. For me the HH is searcher for an old house to live in or the possibility of finding a new home to create for him or herself, the reflexive individuals as Giddens calls them.
Our modern liberal society urges individuals to be true to themselves. However, when social surroundings change so rapidly, how can people determine which identity to be true to? Were to find themselves, a problem that lies at the hart of the identity crises so widespread in society. “Who am I” is a nagging question that many struggle to answer. This is more of a sociological than psychological problem, reflecting the inherent instability of modern mass society. From a radical - Marxist perspective, we see a different picture, not one of too much freedom, as the “idealist” account exemplifies but a lack of distribution of freedom. A few have too much and the many far too little, it is the tension between these, which creates the vacuum of meaning.
I attempted to critically examine this idea of a “free creative” individual. Marx recognizes that self-determination is a genuine human need and that social emancipation and individual freedom are interdependent. Marx theory of alienation at its base has an “idea - essences” of man as a free agent. Marx would have rejected the escapism and romanticism of the HH as a facet of bourgeois ideology. For me Marx is radicalizing the modern liberal ideal of individuality, communism would complete the process of individual emancipation, it is a “natural” continuity of capitalism and liberalism. The ethical claims at the heart of liberalism: the goods of mutual recognition of persons and self-respect, the general human capacity for moral personality and individuality.
However, is it human/humane to be totally free? As man is a social animal perhaps to develop every person’s, potential we need alienating chains. To be human is to cut off some possibilities to pursue others, as the Existentialists argue the only power we have is the power to negate. To choose some thing is to reject every other possibility – in our “embodiment” we cannot do every thing and be everywhere. Thus creativity lies in saying no to all the vast multitude of possibilities to life, and narrowing life to an “Iron Cage” of human meaning – this is culture. Emile Durkheim expressed the widely held fear that without the constraints of an extensive moral discipline, both human nature and society as a whole would slip into anarchy.
Freedom of choice entails commitment and responsibility. To be complete, human, we have to participate fully in the life of society and express all our nature. Are Durkheim’s norms necessary chains, the most important chain is that human life is worth living, or possibly be made worth living. Sociology does not ask the ultimate question what is the meaning of life – which is why there is a section on existential philosophy. Without meaning sociology with the rest of the scientific-progressive project becomes, but a toy, to amuse stunted child/adults. The question when does the theorist live has to be answered. Life and the pursuit of knowledge are not synonyms for the same idea. We have to be able to live to run, and run to live, but this is a view of an animal – to be human is to see this and act. The sociologists are right to say that our actions come from culture, we are “socially constructed”, to be human is to see this and act upon it – this is what the alienated youth of this project are endeavoring to do, in sharp contrast to those who fear and sneer at them from the fools safety of “nothingness” – there cars and careers.
The HH can be seen as taking power in to there own hands taking control of their lives, subverting the constraints of the cash nexus. HH allows, the idealized romantic to step outside of societies constraints and norms, an example being that of an unemployed person, who can except the "reality" of their position that of state benefits or poorly paid insecure work, or create their own "reality" (that of a traveler). HH can “throw” the traveler in to a very “special” space: intimate proximity with people you would not normally mix with. From the Rolls Royce of an aristocrat to the scrap yard truck of a gypsy often within a space of an hour. For the drivers to it is also a “special” space, they can “open up” their personal lives because they no the HH will never have the freedom to tell, it is a space without "responsibility" personal truths can be shared or fantasies lived out. The “relationship” between driver and traveler is one of trust: the traveler is a visitor in someone's space, being entertaining company, if you wish to see it as a transaction, is the payment for the lift. The HH touches on a tradition – meaning - that is much older than the “use value” of today’s judgments. Humanity as a hole, not broken and bent, pacified by the prison of rational, bureaucratic, “safety”.
As man is a social animal perhaps to develop every person’s, potential we need alienating chains. The HH can be seen as subverting the hierarchical nature of these chains, all are equal, each is choosing, the are no "free riders". HH can “throw” the traveler in to a very “special space”: intimate proximity with people you would not normally mix with. To be a successful and safe the HH needs a secure and sensible personality, positive attitude, going with the best of every thing. Our modern liberal society urges individuals to be true to themselves, travel for travel’s sake. The HH lives on this edge.
As I began by quoting Stevenson, I think it appropriate to end with him;
“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
“Old and young, we are all on our last cruise.”
“Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, Kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality… Books are good enough in their own way, but they are a mighty bloodless substitute for life… Give me a young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself!”
A good conclusion - Hitchhiking is both utilitarian and a dilettante bourgeoisie indulgence, in this project I have researched and outlined a real life utopia (and just touched on its shadow – the distopia which is often more real).
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R. L. Stine, The Hitchhiker, Point Horror - Scholastic Children’s Books 1993
R.L. Stevenson, An Apology for Idlers, The Redcoat Press 1951
R.L. Stevenson, Essays of Travel, Chatto & Windus 1905
R.L. Stevenson, Memories and Portraits, Richard Drew Publishing 1990
R.L. Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey and Virginibus Puerisque, Ginn and Company 1936
R.L. Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque and other Papers, G. Kegan Paul & Co 1881
Raymond Williams, Keywords, Flamingo 1983
Richard Thornburgh, Never Look Back – Tramping to Rocamadour, Pharisaios Publications 1995
Richard W. Etulain (ed), Jack London on the road – The Tramp Diary and Other Hobo Writings, Utah State University Press 1979
Roger Hutchinson, High Sixties – The summers of riots & love, Mainstream Publishing 1992
Ronald Fuller, The Beggars’ Brotherhood, George Allen and Unwin 1936
Rosita Boland, Sea Legs Hitch-hiking the cost of Ireland Alone, New Island Books 1992
Sasha Roseneil, Disarming Patriarchy – Feminism and Political Action at Greenham, Open University Press 1995
Schatzman & Strauss, Field Research, Strategies for a Natural Sociology, Prentice-hall 1973
Silver Alan “Trust in social and political Theory” in Gerald D Suttles and Mayer N Zald eds The challenge of social Control
Stuart Hall and Paul du Gay ed, Questions of Cultural Identity, Sage Publications 1996
The ISIC Association, The ISIC student Travel Handbook 1997/98, Kilroy Travels 1997
Thomas Owen, The Owen Thomas Guide to Hitch-hiking, The Author 1995
Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: towards a new modernity, Sage 1992