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In Defense of Stalled Traffic and Faulty Networks

Ruth A. Miller

Publication Year: 2013

Ruth A. Miller excavates a centuries-old history of nonhuman and nonbiological constitutional engagement and outlines a robust mechanical democracy that challenges existing theories of liberal and human political participation. Drawing on an eclectic set of legal, political, and automotive texts from France, Turkey, and the United States, she proposes a radical mechanical rearticulation of three of the most basic principles of democracy: vitality, mobility, and liberty. Rather than defending a grand theory of materialist or posthumanist politics, or addressing abstract concepts or “things” writ large, Miller invites readers into a self-contained history of constitutionalism situated in a focused discussion of automobile traffic congestion in Paris, Istanbul, and Boston. Within the mechanical public sphere created by automotive space, Snarl finds a model of democratic politics that transforms our most fundamental assumptions about the nature, and constitutional potential, of life, movement, and freedom.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

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pp. v-vi

This book owes its existence to the support of many institutions and to the patience and thoughtfulness of a number of friends and colleagues. I completed an early draft of the manuscript as a Copeland Fellow at Amherst College, and I am grateful to Amherst for the financial assistance that allowed me to concentrate on writing. I am similarly grateful to...


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pp. vii-viii

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1. Introduction: Mechanical Constitutionalism

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pp. 1-14

In August 2010, a traffic jam that lasted for over a week in the northern part of China produced hundreds of thousands of media stories.1 According to these stories, the jam was a “monster,”2 its reabsorption was a “miracle,”3 and its resistance to rational explanation was evidence of the self-perpetuating...

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2. Traffic: A Literature Review

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pp. 15-41

We hate cars and traffic in large part, of course, because of their ubiquity. We hate them because of the toll they take on human life. And we hate them because they assault nature and the environment—or at least conventional representations of nature and the environment. As Marc Guillaume points out, though, we also hate cars because they keep bettering...

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3. Networks: A Literature Review

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pp. 42-61

So goes an influential theory of networked subjectivity. The Chinese traffic jam, however, seems to belie this theory. It is true that the jam emphasized the overlap between information flow and mechanical stasis. But its implacable physical presence also challenged any straightforward narrative...

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4. Vitality

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pp. 62-82

Bel Geddes makes this point near the middle of his Magic Motorways, just after unveiling his proposal for a nationwide system of automated highways. The highway of the future, he assures his readers, will make running this chaotic gauntlet unnecessary. Indeed, an orderly and proper set...

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5. Mobility

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pp. 83-101

In a 1923 article, “Get off the Earth,”1 the Boston Globe’s editorial humorist, “Uncle Dudley,” floated an answer to this question. After ridiculing schemes to dig subways “under the cities to take the motors off the street,” laughing at the idea of parking cars “by the thousands in great caverns underground,” and mocking plans to “thrust [pedestrian tunnels]...

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6. Liberty

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pp. 102-122

One figure—sometimes biological, sometimes mechanical—whose presence haunts the automotive public sphere is the traffic officer. The traffic officer might at first seem to be nothing more than an embodied sign—an exaggerated example of the communicative, human qualities of even this most mechanical of realms. According to such an interpretation,...

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7. Drones: A Case Study

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pp. 123-152

In June 2010, law scholar John Parry responded to a series of ten questions that the editors of the William Mitchell Law Review posed to him concerning the constitutionality of U.S. policies toward al-Qaeda. When asked whether it would “be legal” for President Barack Obama’s administration to launch a Predator drone2 strike against Osama bin Laden, Parry...

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8. Conclusion: Stalled Traffic and Faulty Networks

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pp. 153-158

Norman Bel Geddes began promoting his so-called magic motorways—and began reconfiguring environment, tool, user, machine, and biological matter (even if in the name of the autonomous liberal human subject)—at a moment in the twentieth century that saw a great deal of similarly system-or network-oriented writing. He linked his explicit story of...


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pp. 159-196


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pp. 197-206


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pp. 201-211

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029501
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472119004

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2013