Physical Roads and Virtual Nodes as bio-political apparatuses of state control

“By this I mean a number of phenomena that seem to me to be quite significant, namely, the set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy, of a general strategy of power, or, in other words, how, starting from the eighteenth century, modern western societies took on board the fundamental biological fact that human beings are a species. This is roughly what I have called biopower.”

Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population. 1977-78.

(Graham Burchell, Translator)





Bio-Political Apparatuses of Control

Security and control today are maintained, almost entirely, by keeping a check on all of the networks, materials and services essential for life as we know it .We are dependent on several systems to guarantee this life; dependent on systems of water supply, electricity, internet, transport, money, systems of education that accredit us with degrees that allow us specific kinds of jobs, permits and licenses that allow us to inhabit specific kinds of environments and on international relations. As our governments are tasked with organising these systems for us, they are also, essentially, handed over the control to regulate, and possibly manipulate these systems. Thus, politics gets applied onto the systems that are essential for our bios (life); thereby rendering them, not simply life systems but life-political apparatuses of control, or bio-political apparatuses of control.


The intention of this essay is to explicitly unpack the notion of the ‘biopolitical apparatus,’ the ‘milieu’ and to trace the historical development of state apparatuses from physical to spatial to biopolitical.


As Michel Foucault writes in Security, Territory, Population (pg. 977-78): “Sovereignty is exercised within the borders of a territory, discipline is exercised on the bodies of individuals, and security is exercised over a whole population.”


Michel Foucault calls this biopower: the technology of power for managing people as a large group. Biopower is literally having power over bodies; it is “an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations.” The distinctive quality of this bio-political technology is that it allows for the control of entire populations. It is an integral feature of and essential to the workings of—and makes possible—the emergence of the modern nation state and capitalist society.


The concept of biopolitics informs much of the work of Giorgio Agamben’s, an Italian philosopher known for deeper examination of the notion of “state of exception” – based on the sovereign’s ability to transcend the rule of law in the name of the public good – in his piece ‘What is an apparatus’ says:


“Apparatus, then, is first of all a machine that produces subjectifications, and only as such is it also a machine of governance.”


Subjectified by these apparatuses, citizens need not be deterred by inhumane punishment; stepping outside of the way of life maintained by these systems is almost not possible, practically very difficult and also sociologically and culturally discouraged.


Apparatuses that are put into place to control populations today are primarily not physical walls or sovereign authority, but circulating biopolitical networks. An important quality of apparatuses, is that through their network, they are able to set a milieu — an important concept that enables us to understand the biopolitical apparatus. Michel Foucault in Security, Territory, Population (pg 35-36/lecture one,1978) asks and answers: “What is the milieu? It is what is needed to account for action at a distance of one body on another. It is therefore the medium of an action and the element in which it circulates….”


The seemingly innocuous road that we use every day fits into this set of biopolitical apparatuses.


It is commonly discussed in urban theory that there is a relationship between politics, power and urban space; one that is at times strong and vicious and at other times, tenuous. But hardly ever is it apparent to the users of that space, this power is always hidden, implicit. Essentially, control is instituted through systems that circulate, and networks of roads have been, for centuries, the premier in this regard.

 A walled city( jerusalem)


It is easier to explain how the seemingly innocuous urban invention of the road fits into the vast web of government apparatuses of control/security if one begins with the work of Deleuze in ‘Postscript on the societies of Control’. These government/state methods of control of the population are sorted into three ages:

the age of sovereignty,

the age of discipline and

the age of control.


These ages are not insular and overlap in time and space, they are basic characterisations that Deleuze employs to explain the origins of the apparatuses of control and the points at which they morph. In the present time, it is possible to see apparatuses that originated in all three ages co existing in several instances.


The first, the age of sovereignty, is considered to span from the very start of organized civil society, up until the 18th century, when the first republics came into being in Europe.


The next age, that of the ‘disciplinary societies’,i.e. the age of discipline is located in the 18th and 19th centuries, reaching its height at the outset of the 20th, (Foucault 1986,cited in Deleuze 1992,p.3)


The third age began in the 20th century. Marked by the immense socio-political reorganization brought about by World War 2 and is the one that we currently live in. This is the age of control (William S Burroughs ,cited in Deleuze 1992,pg4).


In the age of sovereignty, control and apparatuses of state security were more explicit; the city was ruled by an emperor with the aid of an army, and needed to be protected by a binding fort wall .Citizens within that wall were kept under control by prefects that upheld strict laws regarding their liberties .These laws threatened spectacular public punishment if flouted, as a deterrent to any further potential criminals. With the demise of the mercantilist model of economy, the industrial revolution and perhaps a raising of the expectation of human rights, in tandem with the rise of republics, new systems had to be invented to regulate the population. The ideal goal of these new systems was “to compose a productive force within space-time whose effect will be greater than the sum of its component forces” (Deleuze 1992,pg3).

 the age of sovereignty


This new society, the society of discipline instituted laws that ruled, not on death, but rather, by administering life, by promising a better life to those that abided by them. For example, in this age, the socio-economic class that one was born into was no longer the class that one was assigned to forever; being born into a farmer family, did not necessitate that one find work only as a farmer, it was now possible to obtain a doctor’s education and earn a doctor’s wages, or join a factory and earn a factory worker’s wages, moving to a different socio-economic class in the process. With this change, education and employment acquire new meaning beyond just ways to learn and find sustenance, they become class-changers, and in that sense, social compulsions. There is no dictum that necessitates that every individual must undergo university education or be employed, but without those, it becomes impossible to break out of the social-economic class that one is born into. Thereby individuals are not bound any longer by their socio-economic birth class, but by the rules and regulations of the education and employment that they must undergo.


In a semi-metaphorical sense, society could now break out of the fort wall, but could only advance as far as it could find employment (in factories) and education (in schools). Effectively moving, thereby, from one enclosed space to a series of spaces of enclosure, each with its own set of laws, that conformed to the higher legislation, or constitution, of the republic.


Foucault explains that, in the 18th century, regimes ascertained the raison d’état (1) of their states. The 18th century republics grew bound to each other based essentially on such a ‘raison’ that the previous monarchy had established. As the state or ‘teat’ is no longer just physical, and in fact, needs to exist in circulation with other “etat’s,” the regulatory apparatus can no longer be just physical either. A vast plethora of interconnected infrastructural, political and socio-cultural codes is then inscribed into the milieu  (2) that makes up that ‘etat’, allowing it to be then regulated, administered and essentially controlled by the governments of those republics. These networked codes, modulations and institutions make up the set of ‘biopolitical apparatuses’ that allow the state to continue being a state, allow it to continue being a single territory without a physical definition like a fort wall. Thereby it is also a set that allows the same mode of governance of the state to be perpetually maintained (even if the actual control of government changes hands)


In the age of discipline, the concept of state security broadens to better establish meanings that were only subtly inherent before; it begins to mean not only the protection of the state from enemies/threats against its residents, but also, and more importantly so, the security that ‘the way of state’ will be maintained as is, for the foreseeable future.

 pierre pat section__age of discipline

Pierre Pat – The Age of Discipline


With World War 2, and with the introduction of the computer into the quotidian, biopolitical systems of control multiplied, and pervaded deeper. This essentially allows the citizen to break free from the mould of the disciplinary spaces of enclosure, but force her to conform, in an almost imperceptible way, to the perpetual cycles of enclosure that the society of control puts into play.



The use of roads to create milieus throughout history


The cursus publicus as laid out in the Roman Tabula Peutingeriana (the earliest known Roman itinerarium) originates at the centre of Rome and expands straight, long and level roads to the farthest extents of the conquered empire. “As were the Persians before them, the Romans were very conscious of the military, economic and administrative advantages of a good road system. Each expansion of the empire was consolidated by an associated expansion of its road network. The process allowed the Romans to establish and maintain the most durable empire in European history” (Lay,1992,pg 52).


Via imperiale_cut from colosseum_victor em monument to sea


The implicit intention of this road network was to allow the Roman army, stationed at various garrisons and watch-points along the roads to advance with rapid speed to thwart an uprising that may spring up at any end of the empire. But as pathways of physical circulation always accrete human habitation, the network of roads gave rise eventually to towns. In a fashion that is true for all biopolitical devices, roads too, became an absolute necessity for daily human life (especially with the disuse of non-motorised transport) and soon became the very arteries of the settlement. In short, the Cursus Publicus set, not only the transport network for the ancient Roman Empire but set the whole stage upon which it was built.


It set the milieu that created the sense of the empire.


Although roads led out from the centre, Rome, to all parts of the Roman empire, the city itself was not defined by them. With the rise of the Holy Roman Empire in roughly the 10th century AD, the old Roman roads acquired new meaning, they were not solely roads of power leading from the centre out, but routes of pilgrimage gravitating the devout inwards. For this purpose, the city needed to be redefined as the house of the Catholic church, and no longer as a remnant of the pagan decadence of the Caesars. For this project, in 1585, Pope Sixtus the 5th designed boulevards for Rome that cut through and bound unoccupied parts of the city as well, and had a somewhat iconoclastic attitude towards semi-ruined ancient monuments.


“Sixtus’ axes are not streets ;they are not flanked by buildings ,and they do not provide a serenely static frame for the bustle of life .They are ritual paths that reread the relationship between pre-existing intensity points and bind them together in the dynamic sequence of the pilgrimage route” (Aureli et al,2010,pg 29). The main intention of these axes was to link all of the basilicas in the city, physically, and also visually, through the placement of obelisks, thereby re-centering Rome in a network of holy Catholic pilgrimage routes; a new Holy Roman milieu, to be precise.


In the 18th century, with the spaces of enclosure instituted by the age of discipline, came the ‘urbe’ (Cerda,1867). The urbe was not a fortified city, but was a space of human inhabitation transcribed by an urban plan. The idea of planning came about from the idea of increasing the circulation of air and water in congested, pestilential cities to fight against the deathly scourge of cholera epidemics (suggested by the miasma theories). But many scholars have underlined the inherent ambitions of control of the urban plan. Perhaps the most famous of such was commissioned by Napoleon the 3rd, who Deleuze rightly credits for having effected the large scale conversion from the society of sovereignty to the society of discipline. (Deleuze 1992,pg 3)


“At the centre of Napoleon’s and Haussman’s plans for Paris lay the military security of the state.” “.. the new plan that divided Paris into radial arrondissements was designed to undo the very fabric that allowed this insurrecting  public to exist….”  “…As Haussman saw it, his new roads would ensure multiple, direct rail and road links between each district of the city and the military units responsible for order there. Thus, for example, new boulevards in north-eastern Paris allowed troops to rush from Courbevoie barracks to the Bastille and then to subdue the turbulent Faubourg Saint-Antoine…” (Scott,1998,pg 251 as published in ‘The anthropology of the state, a reader’) The last lines, by urban scholar James C Scott makes the military purpose of the roads in Napoleon’s urban plan explicit, and shows their acute similarity to the Roman Cursus Publicus, established centuries ago.


In the sovereign and disciplinary ages, the road was a means of making state power explicit  through edifice and through military access to public insurrection, but in the age of control, the road becomes all the more established as a biopolitical apparatus, as it becomes the base for other centrally controlled networks like tramways, telephone and electrical network cables. This gradual layering of infrastructural networks onto the important roads of cities is discussed in the segment below.


Expanding control through roads: Biopolitical and Physical violence


Let us consider three sovereign cities that began without any pre-defined urban plan, which originated in proximity to the sea but with very different relationships to it. Athens was founded in the 1st millennium BC (3), Rome in 800 BC (4) and Istanbul, which began as Byzantium, in 700 BC (5).


After the takeover of Byzantium by Constantine, an essential event in the foundation of the city was the building of the state church (later to become the Hagia Sophia as we know it today) (6), which was erected on the coastline, at a strategic point guarding the entrance of the Bosporus strait. Its position can be seen as symbolic of a stronghold over the sea and possibly over all traffic that passed between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black sea. In that sense, the Hagia Sophia, is an apparatus of state security.

 hagia sophia_enmeshed in newer apparatuses of control__pic by Richa


After the Ottoman takeover, Istanbul’s political stronghold became established over the region; the physical city expanded landwards .All of the important buildings of the old Istanbul; the Sultan Ahmet Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and several other small important mosques developed at short distances from the Hagia Sophia; effectively creating the first set of roads, what are now, the FevziPasa and the Millet Cadessi (7). Today the road leading from the Hagia Sophia into the city, is no longer open to cars, but houses the tramway; the most important form of public transport in the city. This gradual overlaying of apparatuses of power onto the same area exemplifies the transition from the age of sovereignty to the age of control (8).


A similar sort of coastline-power-infrastructure network can be gleaned from the important roads of Athens. The acropolis was built in a naturally defensible location high on the hill. (Schneider&Hocker,pg 62-63) From a distance in the ocean, it would have been symbolic of the Hellenic claim of the land. In this sense, the Acropolis was an apparatus of state security. Many centuries later, the Syntagma was built below the Acropolis hill, at a considerable physical distance from it, but it with an immediate visual connection (9), which is likely to be both deliberate and symbolic: It was necessary to establish a relationship with symbols of the previous regimes over the land.

 1785_Bocage_Map_of_Athens_and_Environs,original walls of athens showing Pireos and Siggrou


The old walled road linking Athens to Piraeus is now occupied by the ‘Pireos’; one of the arms of the triangle plan for the republic of Athens designed by Kleanthes and Schaubert in 1832 (10). The Pireos and the Siggrou are the most important physical links of the city of Athens and also of the Syntagma, to its coastline (Piraeus) and read, today, almost like highways. The median of the triangle is constituted by the Athinas street that runs from Ommonia square to Monastiraki, veritably the base of the Acropolis. The Athinas, Pireos and the Siggrou, having grown as the earliest roads in the city also contain the most important tourist attractions, banks of the city, and several important hotels, making them important circulators of capital. The transition of power from the sovereign monument of the Acropolis to the political stronghold of the Syntagma to the circulation of wealth in the roads that grew from the Syntagma becomes apparent.


Thereby a tenuous similarity can be seen between the arteries of Athens and those of old Istanbul, insofar that they link to the coastline, are important transport roads and also, are containers of several other circulating systems of biopolitical control, thereby transforming into compounded, multiscalar biopolitical apparatuses.


In the case of Rome, despite being close to the coast, the city was not conceived of as a coastal establishment, in order to ensure adequate safety from coastal invasions. Rome’s first tryst with her coastline began at Ostia (at the mouth of the river Tiber), whose historical origins are unclear (11). Although there were several cycles of building and ruin at the coast, Ostia did not become an integral part of Rome until the 19th century, when marshes were drained to establish the new Lido di Ostia (a few kilometres seaward of the old Ostia Antica).

 Rome_distance from sea


It is only with the rise of Mussolini in the 20th century, during the Fascist period that there was a move to link the political centre of Italy directly to the sea. During this reign, the Via Ostiensis was renovated and re-established as the via del mare and a new road, the Cristoforo Colombo (also known as the Via Imperiale) was laid out that connected not only the current symbol of power, the Victor Emmanuel monument (built during the Resorgimenta of Italy in 1871) with the sea through a straight road, but also sought to relink this to the powerful history of the ancient Roman empire, by making a cut from the monument to the Colisseum (12). It can be seen as a symbolic statement of reconnecting centuries of imperial domination with the Fascist regime, the Mediterranean sea and the ambition of spreading the power of Fascist Italy through the sea to the north of Africa, which Mussolini hoped to colonise (13).


Thus the city-sea road acquired special political meaning, in the case of Rome, not when the city originated, but during its growth. In Rome, the road did not grow out of the sea, stemming from a millennia old sovereign impulse to establish domination on the sea, but grew towards it, yet with the same sovereign intention. The road provided not only the physical connection between the sea and the cities, but the base on which new apparatuses are constructed, and the sense of the city as a whole, in which way it can be read as a potent biopolitical apparatus.


As is seen from several successive generations of road networks in Rome and also the 19th century urban plans drawn up for cities like Barcelona, Paris and Athens, it is obvious that road networks have the power to set defined milieus, which are the backbone on which the notion of ‘state’ is built. The biopolitical apparatus of the road network has stemmed, almost organically, from preceding sovereign apparatuses in many old cities. Even in cities like Istanbul, Athens and Rome, which did not originate from a pre-decided urban plan at all, road networks play a crucial role in setting and maintaining the state milieu today. The first roads in these cities (and now the most important land routes in the city) stemmed from important sovereign palaces and religious monuments. Thereby since it then went on to transcribe the entire territory, the road connected distant parts of the city to these monuments, and consequentially to the same imperial, governmental milieu that these monuments maintained; it is no surprise that the new democratically elected governments of these cities also maintain their headquarters close to these imperial historical monuments, as they want to fit into and reinstate the same framework of ‘state’ that has been so carefully maintained by these monuments.


Roads, Economics and Control Today


Even today, the laying down of the road can do so much worse than just setting politically biased milieus; they are still, much more violent. The road is not simply an asphalted route marked into the ground, but is a deliberately designed spatialised network, that connects and separates parts of the territory with definite intentions. The violence of the state decreed road is made apparent by considering the land that must forcibly be acquired for its building. Furthermore, today the state and political power in many countries is intricately connected to capital and money related institutions and powers.


Let us take the case of one such monumental road in a modern day democracy such as India, caught up in the pull and push of being democratic in its processes and speeding up economic development. India was touted as a rising economy in the first decade of the new millennium has seen stagnation in economic growth in the past few years and has not lived up to its economic promise. A new government came into power and pledged to make the country more business friendly in order to attract more foreign capital for economic development and employment. It took up the unfinished project of the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC).




The Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor Project is a US$100 billion State-sponsored industrial development Project of the Government of India (partially funded by Japan) aimed at developing industrial zones spanning across six states in north and western India. Touted as one of the largest, monumental, infrastructure projects India has ever attempted in its history, DMIC is expected to create major expansion of infrastructure and industry – including smart cities, industrial clusters along with rail, road, port, air connectivity – in the states along the route of the corridor. Many smart cities would be developed alongside, such as the Dholera SIR in Gujarat, which is envisaged to be 6 times the size of Shanghai and 2 times the size of Delhi. The backbone of DMIC is a Dedicated Freight Corridor that is expected to make logistical costs of manufactured goods the lowest in the world. India needs to employ over 100 million people within the next decade and so the manufacturing centres along DMIC is expected to employ millions.


The DMIC is also the new government’s attempt to showcase India as an investment destination with high levels of ease of doing business. A total of 24 special investment nodes are envisaged to be created by the government that would support manufacturing or any type of industry. The main role of these hubs are to facilitate businesses, provide resources, cheap, fast and efficient transportation to ports, and set up factories quickly without any obstacles in land acquisition. The government’s role is that of facilitator to encourage businesses to invest more by providing a stable environment.


The current government at the centre is in a desperate on-going attempt for parliamentary bills to be passed which make the land acquisition process easier in order to facilitate growth of industries and the economy. This bill is still being discussed in central parliament because many politicians believe that the land acquisition process for industry may be unfair on the farmers who currently own the land.


Although the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor project is being touted by the current government and all its supporters, as an ambitious development plan that will allow  business and employment in the region to grow to great new heights; it has been lambasted by planners and urban design professionals amongst other thinkers, for being too ‘broad brush’ a plan. This DMIC plan has been designed from a very neoliberal standpoint, accommodating several Special Economic Zones, which are a whole different geopolitical power-play game by themselves. The land acquisition aspect of the new SEZ policy is fraught with problems. One evident issue, for example, is the new regulation which requires that the private company setting up the SEZ take full responsibility for rehabilitation of people displaced. The government will take no responsibility for this (SEZ Policy, 2014). This leaves a lot of space for private companies to provide substandard rehabilitation in less than legal ways. The set-up of the DMIC corridor may lead to a higher GDP for India, but in the process, will lead to the destruction of local economies along the corridor, and their subjectification to higher economic and capitalist powers in the country and via the route of foreign capital to higher economic powers anywhere in the world. Economic development has become a method or technique of using state apparatuses to control the bios and lives of people who live on that road or will work along that road. Subjugate everything to the demand for economic growth at all costs. There are no monuments. The road or corridor becomes a monument to the economic development process.


Comparing the Road to the Internet Node: Physical and Virtual Highways


The network of roads are surprisingly similar to the network of the internet, another increasingly used biopolitical apparatus. Although there are some important differences between roads and the Internet, both are circulating networks that connect nodes. In the former (roads), both the network and the nodes are physical and spatialised. In the case of the internet, only the nodes, i.e., computers/satellites are physical, whereas the network itself does not exist in a permanent physical form, it is constantly formed, broken and reformed by millions of signal carrying electrons. Yet they both conform to three properties that are likely to be necessary qualities of all biopolitical apparatuses:

-          they are absolute,

-          they are pervasive and

-          they have the ability to set milieus.


Although more research is required to ascertain this, the paper attempts to flesh out the absolutism and pervasiveness of the road and the internet to make clearer to the reader, why these are subjectifying properties, and to open up a line of questioning as to whether all biopolitical apparatuses have these properties.


The network of roads is almost absolute; roads transcribe almost every corner of a territory, thereby they connect almost all corners of the territory. Similarly, the internet connects millions of different nodes, but the territory it connects is not limited to physical nation states; its territory is global. This absolutism implies that almost all citizens in the territory(ies) must use roads  for land transport and internet for electronic communication; that there is almost no alternative for such transport/communication; thereby necessitating that these citizens comply to the rules that the regulators of these systems set down.


There are several monarchies and single party states that have understood the power in this absolutism very well. The Sultanate of Oman has a monopoly on telephony and internet service provision in the country .As people are aware that all of their electronic communication will be sent off and received on Omantel (70% of which is owned by the government) and associated networks, it is common to be careful to refrain from anti-state comments in the correspondence. Citizens warn other citizens against the act; even if they may speak of their dissatisfaction to each other in person, most would be careful to not speak of it over the phone/in emails. Formally, thereby, there appears to be a milieu of total acquiescence with the government.


The People’s Republic of China blocks several popular international websites, including Google, Gmail, Facebook, Youtube, Blogspot and Wikileaks. Skype is now illegal in both Oman and China. Many are of the opinion though, that the blocking of these sites is not a direct indication that the government is micro-controlling its population, and preventing it from being exposed to ‘rebellion inciting’ foreign material, but is just protecting its economic interests, by letting its domestic versions of the same websites (such as Youku in place of Youtube, and Renren in place of Facebook) prosper.


This lobby that says blocking internet sites is for economic gain also likes to say that the very idea propagated by some people that China is micro-controlling its population is in itself Western anti-China, anti-communist propaganda. But given that the West is doing all in its power to strengthen links with China currently, this is doubtful. It is more likely that the micro-control is a definite government strategy. In a December 16,2014 editorial in the Chinese government run ‘Global Times’ , there was a clear mention that Google and Facebook will return to China eventually, when China will have become stronger and the scope of sensitive information will have been narrowed. (Culpan, 2014) A clear admittance of the strategy employed. The editorial has since then, been removed from the Global Times website and other websites that had reposted it. (Culpan, 2014)


Another important quality of circulating networks that allow them to become apparatuses is the fact that they are pervasive, i.e., in the name of convenience, they pervade the territory so as to encroach into the private realm of the citizen. The state instituted network of roads is denser in the city centre and rarer in the hinterland, leading the city centre to also become an area of greater vigilance, by state and fellow citizen alike, as it allows for greater traffic along that denser road network, i.e., it is more pervasive in the city centre and less pervasive, away from it.


The apparatus of the internet goes many steps further in its pervasiveness; the network does not stop outside of the citizen’s home, but in the name of convenience, pervades into the home, into the home computer; is linked to the laptop which goes everywhere with the citizen; is linked to the mobile phone which goes everywhere as well and tracked through satellites and global positioning systems. Through cookies, web vendors can track every virtual move the citizen makes on any device at all.


Finding alternatives to biopolitical control


We discussed earlier the concept of the milieu- how an important quality of apparatuses for control is that through their network, they are able to set a milieu. One method if fighting or resisting the control exerted by apparatuses is to somehow escape their milieu and thus escape the control.


The 19th century Mormon societies trying to recreate a Zion in the USA situated their own colonies a great distance away from the main highways. They, thus, maintained their alternative way of life simply by situating themselves out of the space of circulation, of trade and of ideas with the rest of the world. They got out of the milieu created by the highway and road network and created their own milieu instead.


The road is decidedly permanent, as it is physical and marks permanent connections between places and permanent separations between others, which gives it the ability to create an environment or a milieu, characterised by the places that have been connected. Sixtus the Vth’s basilica system for Rome is a very good example of this. However, when it comes to the internet, where there is no set way to navigate through and no permanent ways or paths, such escape from milieu as shown by Mormons becomes difficult.


Therefore, many scholars have thought though, that the way out of certain binding milieus is not to avoid/restrict them but to assign new meanings to them; to reclaim them. The situationist international’s concept of detournement is an extremely important movement that exemplifies the deterritorialization and reterritorialization that Deleuze and Guattari discussed in A 1000 plateaus.


Guy DeBord’s psychogeographic map of Paris, is an anti-apparatus in the sense that it poses/makes explicit a new system of circulation; one that is not defined and one that allows every citizen to redefine a path for his/herself spontaneously as they move, and one that can be different every time.


Another important concept that discusses the depoliticisation and re-politicisation (or deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation) of space is that of ‘heterotopia’ – a concept in human geography that Foucault expounded in his 1967 essay (Of other spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias) that has spawned several books, articles and much thought. “A heterotropia is a real place that stands outside of known space” and is articulated via five principles that play with the properties of isolation, connection, opening, closing, reflection and representation to elaborate its meaning. Foucault used heterotopia to describe places and spaces that function in non-hegemonic conditions. These are spaces of otherness, which are neither here nor there, that are simultaneously physical and mental, such as the space of a phone call or the moment when you see yourself in the mirror.


Foucault’s elaborations on heterotopias were published in an article entitled Des espaces autres (Of Other Spaces). The philosopher calls for a society with many heterotopias, not only as a space with several places of/for the affirmation of difference, but also as a means of escape from authoritarianism and repression, stating metaphorically that if we take the ship as the utmost heterotopia, a society without ships is inherently a repressive one making a clear reference to Stalinism.


Francois Roche’s ‘I’ve heard about’ is an experimental, theoretical urban idea that attempts a solution to the same issue, of urban plans being essentially deliberate designs; which renders them apparatuses. “…it’s architecture is based on the principles of random growth and permanent incompletion. It develops by successive scenarios, without planning and without the authority of a pre-established plan. Its physical composition renders the community’s political structure visible.” “Growth is based on negotiations between neighbours and other residents, and at the same time subjected to collective constraints.” (Roche,I’ve heard about a fat,flat,growing experiement)



This essay was an attempt to “read the ROAD” (and the virtual node) and establish the conceptual framework through which the road is read by examining Foucault’s ‘Security, Territory, Population’ and works by other important thinkers.


In conclusion, we see that apparatuses of state control and security have existed in the urban-scape ever since the beginning of civilized society. It is only when the state needed to be situated in a space of circulation that the circulating networks themselves began to be thought of as having the potential to regulate the population. This essay developed a general idea of the road as biopolitical apparatus, and used examples of political events that illustrate this from many regions and time frames across Europe, with occasional reference to non-European examples. Historical examples explained how the road is, and has been the foremost of such biopolitical devices.


The role of the road in this politico-urban relationship is then this: it has been used as a regulating apparatus across time, space and political scenarios and has the ability to become such, even in cities that grow organically, without pre-determined plans, as it can connect other symbols of state security.


There was no specific intention of developing a ‘European’ or other specific regional understanding of the road as apparatus. There was also no specific intention of studying the road as an apparatus in any particular time frame; examples are illustrated from across time periods, from Ancient Rome to 21st century Istanbul.


An abstraction of the properties of the road was extrapolated to another biopolitical apparatus – the internet, to open up questions about what properties allow circulating systems to become subjectifying apparatuses in general, and about whether the paradox of the circulating system is an issue that can be tackled.


A final discussion was made of movements and institutions that deemed biopolitical power a problem and the attempts that they made to resist it. The research done on overcoming apparatuses, all focuses on breaking and re-establishing milieus, as it is only through the establishment of milieus that all biopolitical apparatuses, including roads, become potent.


The challenge for democracy and a younger interconnected world is to re-establish and redefine milieus and establish these heterotopias within their real and virtual worlds. The question the younger citizens of a democratic, interconnected world have to ask is: Do our roads and virtual nodes lead to freedom or to greater control? How can we ensure that our physical and virtual highways liberate us rather than subjugate? Every time I use my Facebook, Google, email or shop on the Internet am I undergoing greater surveillance or exerting more choice? Is what is being sold and positioned as autonomy and freedom really a prison for ourselves that we are helping to build with each click?





© Richa Narvekar, 2015


Photographs by Richa Narvekar



Note: Facts on Istanbul, Athens, and Rome, including historical information have been collated/researched by the author on personal visits to these cities herself as well as through intensive study of multiple sources for a Master’s thesis in Urban Design at The Bartlett School of Architecture London (2013-14)




  •  Security,Territory,Population , Foucault, Michel
  •  Michel Foucault The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: The Will to Knowledge. London: Penguin. p. 140 (1998)
  •  What is an apparatus?, Agamben, Giorgio
  •  Homo Sacer, Agamben, Giorgio
  •  PostScript on the Societies of Control, Deleuze, Giles
  •  Rome the Centres Elsewhere, Aureli et al,(Berlage Institute), Skira Institute, Milan, 2010
  •  Ways of the World: :A History of the world’s roads and the vehicles that used them,
  • Lay,Maxwell,G., New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press,1992.
  • The Social construction of the Ocean, Steinberg, Philip E, New York: Cambridge University Press 2000
  • The Society of the Spectacle, Debord, Guy
  •  Heterotropia and the city, Cauter, Lieven de,Taylor and Francis e-library,2008
  •  Of other spaces: Utopias and Heterotropias, Foucault, Michel
  •  Cities, People, Language, Scott, James C., Chapter 10, as included in :The Anthropology of the State: A Reader, edited by Aradhna Sharma, Akhil Gupta, Blackwell Publishing, MA, USA 2006
  • I’ve heard about a fat,flat,growing experiement , Roche Francois,as published on website
  • The Athenian Agora XII:The Neolithic and Bronze Age, Immerwahr,Sara,American School of Classical Studies at Athens,1971
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium,Oxford University Press,Web Edition,2005
  • Die Akropolis von Athen, Schneider&Hocker,Darmstadt 2001
  •  Political Propaganda and Archaeology: The Mausoleum of Augustus in the Fascist Era,
  • Brangers,Susan,L.Fugate, International Journal of Humanities and Social Science,Web Edition,August 2013
  • SEZ Policy (Speical Economic Zone). (2014). Retrieved March 29, 2015, from
  • Culpan, T. (2014, December 29). China blocks access to google’s gmail as ban escalates. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from news:
  • Mahajan, U. (2013, April 18). napm-extends-solidarity-to-protestors-of-delhi-mumbai-industrial-corridor. Retrieved March 30, 2015, from






(1) “The state is a firm domination over peoples” – you see that there is no territorial definition of the state, it is not a territory, it is not a province or a realm, it is only peoples and a firm domination – “The state is a firm domination over peoples.” Raison d’État – and he does not give it the narrow definition that we now give it – “is the knowledge of the appropriate means for founding, preserving, and expanding such a domination.”Foucault, pg 314 in Security, Territory, Population

(2) Milieu – used in the canonical Foucauldian context, as cited in Security, Territory, Population , pg 35-36/lecture one,1978) “What is the milieu? It is what is needed to account for action at a distance of one body on another. It is therefore the medium of an action and the element in which it circulates. It is therefore the problem of circulation and casuality that is at stake in this notion of milieu”

(3) Immerwahr, S in “The Athenian Agora XII:The Neolithic and Bronze Age.Princeton.1971

(4) Plutarch, Life of Romulus,12,1.,as quoted in ‘Rome the Centres Elsewhere’,Aureli et al,Berlage Institute,2010,pg15

(5) “Constantinople” in The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press,Oxford,1991,pg 508

(6) Hagia Sophia: Facts,history and architecture.

(7) See map of Istanbul, included in archive.

(8) See section by Pierre Patte and reiterations to explain successive ages of apparatuses

(9) See pictures c1 and c2_athens

(10) See Bocage map of Athens and Kleanthes Schaubert map of Athens

(11) See Ostia: Introduction, Also see Ostia antica map

(12) Aureli et al in ‘Rome the centres elsewhere. Also See via Cristoforo Colombo images in archive.

(13) Brangers, Susan in Political Propaganda and Archaeology: The Mausoleum of Augustus in the Fascist Era








Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.