The Order of Thoroughfares and Other Things

In The Order of Things, Foucault writes, “However, if in any given culture and at any given moment, there is always only one episteme that defines the conditions of the possibility of all knowledge, whether expressed in a theory or silently invested in a practice”(155).  Here, Foucault describes the episteme as an apparatus of knowledge. This base forms within the entire world and acts as a power structure that prevents congestion and maintains order. He goes on to write, “In any case, the Classical episteme can be defined in its most general arrangement in terms of the articulated system of a mathesis, a taxinomia, and a genetic analysis. The sciences always carry within themselves the project, however remote it may be, of an exhaustive ordering of the world; they are always directed, too, towards the discovery of simple elements and their progressive combination; and at their centre [sic] they form a table on which knowledge is displayed in a system contemporary with itself” (82). The system Foucault describes is reminiscent of the system of flow within forms of public infrastructure like roads, highways, and etc. Thoroughfares are designed to allow passage from one road to the next. The sciences behind these passages are within the asphalt mixture, leveling the pavement, and all of the other equipment required for building roads. The mathesis within this system is also present within the learned practices overtime that have encouraged the development of technologies like road signs, traffic lights, and LED pedestrian crossing signals. 

These signs allow pedestrians to move freely across intersections without disturbing the flow of traffic. Roads have existed for thousands of years. Similar to those systems from years ago, the transport system today is also designed for trade, travel, and easy passage. The roads are required to be clear enough for vehicles and other means of transportation to import items into cities and towns as well as export items out of cities and towns. Often, thoroughfares lead pedestrians and means of transportation into areas of rest, consumerism, and fellowship. Therefore, the reasoning behind thoroughfares is not only to decrease congestion, but also to allow the citizen body to shop, consume, and perpetuate that kind of circularity. Main Streets are synonymous with retail. Disneyland’s Main Street, USA is a prime example of the consumerism expected on a typical Main Street. The shops and galleries are next door to banks and restaurants in a deliberate way to not only grab the attention of a pedestrian or passerby, but to keep them interested. Pedestrians and drivers leave thoroughfares and spill into Main Street to consume, shop, and be entertained. 

Open areas like Main Street allow the passage of cars and pedestrians with its own road system. Downtown Columbia, South Carolina has its own Main Street, which is made up of restaurants, shops, galleries, hotels, and banks. This model of Main Street is a heavily populated area designed to appease the consumer. The flow of thoroughfares steer drivers and pedestrians into Main Street to shop, buy, eat, and be catalogued. The majority of the establishments on Main Street are used to target the affluent. There are over nine banks in the area. The banks serve as further incentive to stay on Main Street. The installation art pieces outside of restaurants and business establishments are also aimed at keeping pedestrians occupied in the area. The art pieces are designed to take up just enough time, so that pedestrians and passersby linger in the area before stumbling into other stores. Main Street is also heavily watched. Not only is there a number surveillance cameras atop the street lights, but there are also surveillance boxes that surround the buildings. The surveillance boxes monitor the areas in front of buildings and the intersections. These forms of technology are aimed at remedying congestion. The surveillance cameras are to prevent criminal actions. Surveillance cameras are also there in an attempt to premediate any and perhaps all potential crimes within the sphere.  In Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11, Grusin writes, “Premediation is in this sense distinct from prediction. Unlike prediction, premediation is not about getting the future right. In fact it is precisely the proliferation of competing and often contradictory future scenarios that enables premediation to prevent the experience of a traumatic event by generating a low level of anxiety as a kind of affective prophylactic” (46). The premediated action is forewarned by the presence of surveillance. 

Cameras cannot stop criminals from committing crimes. The cameras are placed in areas to intimidate criminals and are there just in case criminals act against law-abiding citizens. In doing so, the camera assumes all citizens are potential criminals and that anyone who may exit or enter the space is suspicious. The surveillance cameras are positioned to act in the place of security guards. 

This model of surveillance is very similar to the way traffic lights operate.  The traffic lights signal traffic to go, slow down, and stop. However, the lights cannot make pedestrians or drivers obey the laws in place. The lights direct ongoing traffic, but the pedestrians and drivers act at their own will. The rules and procedures designed for crossing the street are to prevent congestion. The procedures are also designed for individuals to act in the best interest of an invisible group, which makes everyone within the citizen body subject to the performance of the system as a whole. Lawful behavior is imposed upon the citizen body to ensure efficiency, uniformity, and order. In this way, the surveillance cameras and traffic lights manage the population’s behavior because of their attempt at producing uniformity. Traffic lights and the surveillance cameras that monitor the action around intersections require ongoing obedience. The traffic lights are always on, always directing, and aiming at achieving stability within the intersection.  Drivers obey the laws in place by stopping for red lights and pedestrians are halted while the light is green. Drivers and pedestrians are called to act en masse to maintain the flow of traffic. Sure, individuals act in their own best interest to ensure their safety, but the rhythmic dance of heavy activity and moments of pause reveal that a movement of some kind is expected. 

This concept is quite similar to the notion of interpellation. InIdeology and the Ideological State Apparatus, Althusser writes, “Ideology functions in such a way that it ‘recruits’ subjects among the individuals (it recruits them all), or ‘transforms’ the individuals into subjects (it transforms them all) by that very process which I have called interpellation or hailing, and which can be imagined along the lines of the most common everyday police (or other) hailing: ‘Hey, you there.’ . . . [T]he hailed individual will turn around. By this mere one-hundred-and-eighty-degree physical conversion, he becomes a subject. Why? Because he has recognized that the hail was ‘really’ addressed to him” (174). All citizens are subject to interpellation. All citizens are expected to understand the rules and comply. Being watched by surveillance cameras changes the way the responsiveness of the citizen body. People often act differently when being watched; they stand a bit straighter and behave as expected. 

Any acts of deviance like jaywalking congest intersections and could possibly risk the lives of drivers and other pedestrians. In Public Privacy: Surveillance of Public Places and the Right to Anonymity, Slobogin writes, “Consider the three ways cameras can, in theory, be useful: (1) they might help spot incipient crime that can be prevented, or at least solved, through immediate action; (2) they might create a record of crime that can be used in identifying and convicting perpetuators at some later time; and (3) they might deter crime” (85-86). However, these are the ways in which surveillance cameras can in theory work to prevent crime. In actuality, it’s almost as if the cameras are geared more at punishing offenders than preventing crime in part because of its reactionary design. The surveillance cameras only capture a crime after it has been committed. 

Life would be impossible without roads. Roads offer ports of transportation needed for trade, travel, and safe passage. Surveillance in thoroughfares is designed to make sure pedestrians and drivers follow the laws in place. Surveillance matters because of the transparency it requires and the smoothness its presence creates. Similar to surveillance, street lights are incredibly recursive, in that they are both dependent on the repetition of each process. For example, monitoring one person for a single day would not accomplish the goal of surveillance as a mechanism. Surveillance works because it’s always on design. Premediation is also dependent upon surveillance grabbing the attention of the entire citizen body and controlling that body. It is never enough that surveillance premediates a series of actions from a few individuals. On a larger scale, surveillance’s goal is to eradicate individual thought so that all individuals will act in the best interest of the invisible group naturally. This concept is often ignored in part because of the reciprocity of surveillance. The citizen body gives the information that surveillance needs to operate properly, but only because the system gives the impression that surveillance in return protects everyone included in the citizen body. However, the complication in this system arrives when heads within the citizen body are also identified as individuals from the criminal body. Surveillance answers this conundrum by considering all citizens as potential criminals. It is this inclusionary rationale that creates distractions that foster inattention. This state of inattention is needed for the citizen body to produce large quantities of information. Thoroughfares are designed to prevent congestion because above all else surveillance requires movement. If pedestrians and drivers are not constantly moving, then they are not producing information, and if they’re not producing information, then they cannot be managed. 


1.      Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus.”1969-70. http://www.rlwclarke.netAlthusser,IdeologyandIdeologicalStateApparatuses.pdf

2.      Foucault, Michel. "The Order of Things.” Michel Foucault. Natural Thinker.,Michel/Foucault,

3.      Grusin, Richard. “Premediation” and “The Anticipation of Security.” Premediation: Affect and Mediality after 9/11. London, UK: Palgrave/MacMillan, 2010. 38-63 and 122-142.

4.      “Public Privacy: Surveillance of Public Places and the Right to Anonymity.” Privacy at Risk: The New Government Surveillance and the Fourth Amendment. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2007. 79-117.




I really liked what you had to say about Main Streets being synonymous with retail and comparing it to Disneyland. That was such an astute observation, that I never would have thought of. I also really thought what you had to say about surveillance cameras not preventing crime. I used to go under the assumption that surveillance cameras were good at preventing crime, assuming criminals would not commit crimes if cameras were around. But, criminals are usually not deterred by these types of things, since they know what they are doing wrong in the first place. 

Your observations about "life being impossible" without roads, is also something I never thought of. Roads are something I used to just take "for granted". I never really thought about their usefulness in everyday life. 

-Grace Miyaji 

From Evan Meaney (Media Arts)

I wonder if this lends more credence to acts like the Situationalist derive or to parkour. They seem like ways to regain or navigate some amount of control over cities in their attempt to control us. Are there any acts (other than jaywalking) that might reclaim some agency for city-goers? 

I reviewed some of Guy Debord’s concepts before writing this analysis, but couldn’t find a detailed way to include any of it. Specifically, of the little I know about the Situationists, the movement’s conceptual views of recuperation within media forms attack the way capitalism makes giving up one’s freedom and privacy good, safe, and desirable. Products and the circularity of consumerism distract the citizen body into “buying and belonging.” This idea is what “Show Proud, Shop Columbia” is all about.

In what way can these conventions be challenged? Should they be challenged? 

Many insights here, Tandria. The concluding formulation has me wondering. The notion that motion makes data seems right and useful, but then again, isn’t stillness also meaningful in this context?  If I stand across the street from a bank for too long; I’m likely to attract a certain kind of attention. So maybe the issue here is the creation of a milieu in which relative rates of motion and stillness become meaningful information—data—because they can be normalized. If this is so, isn’t attention or lack of attention to motion just another datum? The self-conscious jaywalker or street performer would seem to be just as easy to study and plan for as more routine and law abiding flows . . . 

You mention the security cameras a lot, saying that they are placed there, essentially, as a deterrent for criminals; the only way that they can prevent crime is if a criminal sees it and is afraid of being recorded by it, however, if this is true, why are the cameras not put in more obvious places instead of being attached to the tops of buildings as most of the cameras we saw on our walk were? Also, were these designed to look for traffic violations or for more serious crimes like robberies? I think you make some interesting points about how people follow traffic lights out of fear of the consequences, and something interesting to think about would be that in some places cameras are placed on traffic lights, and only go off if someone enters the intersection during a red light (dubbed Red Light Cameras). These cameras, which are designed specifically to catch people breaking traffic laws, are not used in every state in America, even though they would be the perfect deterrent for traffic violations; rather than a potential offender being afraid a cop might be near, they would be certain that they would be caught in the act. I guess my real question is why aren't these used everywhere? Any thoughts?

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