In Defense of Stalled Traffic and Faulty Networks
Ruth A. Miller

It is possible to imagine a theory of democracy and a constitutional history independent of human subjectivity


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 re-articulation 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.

“Pushes the current notion of materialism to its logical conclusions in ways that leave other, nominally radical materialist theories in the dust.”
—James Martel, San Francisco State University

“[Miller] makes clear the relevance of non-human entities and systems to human politics and to our enmeshment and embedding in them; these material entities are not external to us and thus must be deemed players in our polities and political theory.”
—Samir Chopra, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

“By insisting on the importance to legal studies of stalled cars and traffic jams and challenging the obsession with information flowing across networks, Miller redefines constitutional ideas of vitality, mobility, and liberty. . . . This is a book that unsettles but which also articulates a vision of law and politics that is profoundly inclusive and fundamentally anti-authoritarian.”
—John Parry, Lewis & Clark Law School

“If Alexis de Tocqueville had ever had the chance to drive a car, his ideal type of democracy might have been even stronger! Miller’s book attests to the many issues raised by the question of mobility—very serious issues, because directly related to freedom and politics. It also covers the dysfunctions of mobility, including traffic jams, whose unexpected and invisible virtues will delight the reader.”
—Mathieu Flonneau, Université Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne

Jacket photo: © Brian Kinney/Veer

Ruth A. Miller is Professor of History at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

Look Inside

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 224pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2013
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11900-4

Add to Cart
  • $74.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2014
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03621-9

Add to Cart
  • $30.95 U.S.

Related Products



  • networks, traffic, mobility, highways, posthuman, constitutionalism, democratic theory, technology, machines, vitality