Contested Spaces, Shared Concerns

Road Interactions from the Perspective of Three User Groups

  • Sarah Stutts
  • Kenneth Saintonge University of North Texas, Applied Anthropology
  • Nicholas Jordan University of North Texas, Applied Anthropology
  • Christina Wasson University of North Texas, Applied Anthropology


Roadways are sociocultural spaces constructed for human travel which embody intersections of technology, transportation, and culture. In order to navigate these spaces successfully, autonomous vehicles must be able to respond to the needs and practices of those who use the road. We conducted research on how cyclists, solid waste truck drivers, and crossing guards experience the driving behaviors of other road users, to inform the development of autonomous vehicles. We found that the roadways were contested spaces, with each road user group enacting their own social constructions of the road. Furthermore, the three groups we worked with all felt marginalized by comparison with car drivers, who were ideologically and often physically dominant on the road. This article is based on research for the Nissan Research Center - Silicon Valley, which took place as part of a Design Anthropology course at the University of North Texas.

Author Biographies

Sarah Stutts

Sarah Stutts is a Master’s Candidate in Applied Anthropology at the University of North Texas. She has interests in design anthropology, user-centered research, and consumer insights with experience in qualitative market research. She is endlessly fascinated by roads as cultural spaces and has completed a number of research projects concerning road use, ranging from projects for UNT’s department of transportation, to research for the city planner of Denton, Texas. For more information, see



Kenneth Saintonge, University of North Texas, Applied Anthropology

Kenneth Saintonge is a Master’s Candidate in Applied Anthropology at the University of North Texas. He is interested in the intersections of design, digital and material culture, and identity. He received a Bachelor’s in Visual Arts from Eastern Connecticut State University, with concentrations in Studio Sculpture and Art History. He has been involved with community and public outreach through various organizations that promote local artistic and cultural development. Presently volunteering with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as an AmeriCorps VISTA, he is focused on community resource development, outreach, and visitor experience.  

Nicholas Jordan, University of North Texas, Applied Anthropology

Nicholas Jordan earned his Bachelor’s in Anthropology at the University of North Texas in the fall of 2018 and will be returning in the fall of 2019 to continue with a Master’s in Applied Anthropology. He is interested in the anthropology of design and technology and hopes to conduct applied research relating to human-centered design. Nicholas currently works as an intern for Cultural Awareness International, which facilitates intercultural trainings and relocation services for organizations. 

Christina Wasson, University of North Texas, Applied Anthropology

Christina Wasson is Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Texas. She was trained as a linguistic anthropologist. After finishing her Ph.D., she worked for E-Lab, a design firm that used anthropological research to develop new product ideas. Here she developed an interest in the emergent field of design anthropology.  Christina was a founding member of the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference (EPIC) Steering Committee. At UNT, Christina teaches a course in design anthropology that prepares students for careers in this field. Clients for class projects have included the Nissan Research Center – Silicon Valley, Motorola, Microsoft, and the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.  For more information, see


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Themed Articles: Transportation