Draft Translation of Fourquet and Murard’s “La Ville-Ordinateur”

As I mentioned last week, this is the essay that kicked off Recherches 13 (1973) and is the context for the two conversations involving Deleuze, Guattari, Foucualt, and Fourquet that are published as texts 129 and 130 in Foucault’s Dits et Écrits (tome 2) and translated into English in Foucault Live (1996) under the title “Equipments of Power.”

This is a draft but I think it comes across fairly clearly. I would like to gather it along with a few of the other key contributions to this issue and putting it our for publication, perhaps along with portions of issue 14 (Stuart Elden provides some insight into issues 13 and 14 here and here). Any advice on how to undertake that or journals you believe might be interested in such an endeavor would be greatly appreciated, as would any comments on the translation itself (or if you know of any postdocs where one could concentrate on this kind of work, I would be interested in that too!).

The Computer-City

We are building a strange machine, made of bits and pieces borrowed from the genealogist Foucault, stolen from the two-headed savant Deleuze-Guattari’s worksite, and finally cobbled together by local artisans.

The contemporary discourse on the city and urbanism secretly regulates two figures, two tendencies, two approaches which order the apparent variety of different currents and doctrines of urbanism.[1] These two poles, which emerge in the form of regulatory models or ideas of “urban reason,” correspond to the two “urbanisms” defined by Françoise Choay: “progressive urbanism” and “cultural” urbanism.[2]

The first pole corresponds to a rationalist humanism; starting from a rational and universal figure of man, it wants to build a city adapted to the modern exigencies of urban functions determined by industrialization. In The Athens Charter one finds the main themes, or better, the principal model of this tendency’s approach.[3]

The second pole rejects the functionalism of the first figure, and sees the city as a cultural artifact before being functional: a field of significations and symbolic representations (Lewis Mumford, Roland Barthes), a book that one reads (Henri Lefebvre), etc. Each stone is a sign, each form is a symbol, and cultural man involved in this conception lives in a symbolic city, a city bustling with ghosts and representations. The extreme position of this current develops nostalgia for the city of the past as a successful undertaking, balanced by man and his constructions, particularly of the symbolic territory.

These two figures (which can also form combinations, for they do not delimit ideologies, but describe thematic series which can interfere with one another) are deployed on the surface of the urban discourse as a common foundation that can be schematized thus:

  1. The disorder of the modern city: industrialization has destroyed the order of the city as a rational or cultural totality.
  2. The loss of man: Man (of reason or of culture) can no longer find his rational or expressive image in this disorder; he can no longer recognize himself in his built work.
  3. The urbanistic illusion: the misfortune of modern man is due to urban disorder; the harmony of the old city, on the contrary, is the expression of the past happiness of man, in symbiosis with his city.

On this common foundation, this common problematic, the two tendencies propose different responses: to create a new harmony, an order that is rational, universal, and adapted to modern productive forces; or to recreate the harmony of the past, to plan the urban fantasy, to integrate the imaginary into urban politics.

The two figures are mirror opposites, but they find common ground in denouncing the urban disorder of industrial society: the modern city and also its beautiful souls.


This cleavage at the heart of urbanism as doctrine (found in justifications of urbanism as urban planning) reproduces itself in the discourse on which, apparently, constitutes the framework of urban space: the collective equipments.[4]

Of the four main functions described by The Athens Charter (working, inhabiting, circulation, and recreation), collective equipments seem to materialize the latter two. Therefore, they are considered to be services permitting the following functions:

  • Circulation (infrastructure: roads, the transportation network, fluids, sanitation)
  • Education (educational equipments)
  • Treatment (hospital and sanitary equipments)
  • Enrichment/Cultivation (cultural equipments)
  • Playing sports (sports equipments)
  • Play and enjoying nature (play equipments and green spaces)

The human subject is at the center of these functions and is the basis of their rational unity.

From the cultural perspective, collective equipments constitute the support of fantastical, imaginary, or symbolic meanings, depending on the language used. Collective equipments must be studied not as actual structures and relations, but as symbolic structures and relations.[5]

The two perspectives have this in common: they consider collective equipments exclusively from the angle of consumption. From the functionalist perspective, one consumes care, free time, the space of circulation, green space, or the spectacle. From the culturalist perspective, one consumes fantasies or symbols. Actual consumption becomes symbolic.

The two problematics are based on one unconscious:

  1. An individual or collective subject of consumption exists: a rational subject of political economy or a cultural subject of the universe of signs.
  2. The subject of consumption precedes and conditions the production of collective equipments.
  3. Consumption, from that moment on, unfolds in the field of representation. The effect of use (actual or imaginary) becomes the cause of the production of equipments, which are envisioned in relation to the representation of needs to satisfy, and not in relation to the connection to the network of equipments and the process of the production of the city.


Without challenging the interests of research focused on the problematic defined above (in particular research of the culturalist type) we would alternatively like to introduce a completed problematic, at least a common thread that allows escape from these alternatives and the recovery of the “epistemological base” that it makes possible. We do not deny the existence and the specificity of symbolic functions in the city and their collective equipments, but we are proposing to locate these significations as the effect, as one speaks of the effect of meaning, or the optical effect. This is only possible under the condition of understandng the city as production, the collective equipments as means of production, and by considering production as a privileged and foundational moment from which the rest flows: in particular, circulation and consumption (actual or fantastical). This moment, for us, is neither conscious nor subconscious (ideologies and representations are subconscious), but fundamentally unconscious.

The city, from then on, must be the object of a sort of inverse phenomenological reduction: it is no longer a cultural work, a symbolic or economic use value, it is a “tool,” as some have described it, a condition to consider this social “tool” as a tool which produces and reproduces itself, a bit like how biologists currently consider the living cell: a machine that produces and reproduces itself (Jacques Monod), a tool without the person that handles it, a social tool-machine which is its own operator[6], a signifying machine that does not mean anything, but that gathers, connects, and interrupts all the productive, institutional, and scientific chains. The city is not exterior to the production of chains; it is not reduced to an inert and exterior space to the process of production (it is necessary to reject a purely spatial representation of the city): the city is a computer that builds its own program, an informational machine that produces new information for incessant mixing, the interrupting of heterogeneous series which, without it, would have continued their homogenous and separate deployment.

In the first civilizations of the “Asiatic” mode of production, the city was presented as an apparatus for transforming natural energy into useful energy. Adjacent to the river, the city transformed it into a socially productive force: agricultural energy, life of the earth. Wild water is tamed, stored, distributed across the city. The city, from the on, seemed to animate but also to dominate the earth, its productive power, and the relationships of production involved in this productive process: the State, the functionary class, social hierarchy, and the drudgery of peasants and slaves all assume the mythical and redoubtable figure of the sovereign. The city has finally produced its king, although he appears as the veritable subject and the precondition of the whole process.

The city then begins its thus: an energetic-economic means of production (transforming natural water into a productive force), it is more generally a means of production of information. It gathers and metabolizes all types of heterogeneous productive chains: water from rivers, farmers from communes, knowledge from functionaries, tools from the artisan, writing from the scribe, the spectacle of religion, exotic products, arms from the military apparatus, etc. It is not simply a thermodynamic machine, it is before all else an informational machine, coding and decoding energy flows, amplifying the productive power of social labor tenfold through operations of cutting, mixing, and interrupting all types of productive processes.

The city of modern times, the city of the Iron Age, and that of the Renaissance, satisfy the same function, but under other forms and in other conditions. Here capital replaces the hierarchy of the State and the sovereign; the medieval city appears as an organ of centralization and accumulation of merchant and money capital and makes the birth and the development of financial capital possible. But capital, like the river in the city of the despot, is condensed and distributed according to the city’s informational chains. It feeds on all the use values that circulate and intersect in the space of the city: artisanal techniques, merchants, scientific discoveries, monetary signs, travellers from abroad, companions, later expropriated peasants, vagabonds, vapor machines, tool-machines, sans-culottes and the bourgeoisie of 1789…The industrial revolution appears as the product of the city since the city is the social space where capital is deployed, the center of capital accumulation (accumulation meaning the flow of the river of surplus value, not the stockpiling of money or merchandise). The machine of capital almost completely identifies itself with this machinic production and cutting of information that is the city: the accumulation of capital is at the same time the accumulation of technological innovations, scientific discoveries, institutional ruptures, works of art, etc.

The modern city, commercial and industrial[7] therefore developed in history as a means of production that does not produce any specific merchandise. The city, as such, is a collective equipment, and the network of cities will distribute capital across the entire surface of the national territory. In its essential function – producing information, cutting and interrupting heterogeneous productive series – the city therefore has circulation as a main principal: it is born at the intersection of flows of merchandise, workers, and money capital. In its internal organization it reproduces the circulatory networks where the road is never but one materialization, the most visible and noisiest today. It attracts and centralizes the flow of capital and information, metabolizes and expels them from itself into the space of social distribution.

But the use values do not slide to infinity on the body of the city: the city retains, conserves, and transforms information into knowledge and capital into stock. The flows are held in reserve and are crystallized in institutions: banking, administrative, religious, and corporate institutions. The city then takes the figure of a complex totality, of a coherent unity that draws institutions into the space of its representation; but under the beautiful figure the savage flows and fragments of productive capital rumble.

Capital institutionalizes, builds its State, and one of the cities soon detaches itself as the capital of the State. Like territory, the State only really exists in the space of representation: a space geographically delimited by its frontiers, a map where administrative abstractions are distributed: prefectures, departments, capital. Territory concretizes a spatial distribution and, as the figure of distribution, seems to precede the statal institution without which, in truth, it cannot exist.

This reversal is proper to the imagination. In the space of production, territory loses its rigidity and its fixity; its terminals melt and it dissolves into a plastic space that productive forces shape at will, away from a periphery toward an approximate center, connecting circulatory networks. Productive forces ignore frontiers and make space mobile and unlimited.

The capital appears as the “head” of the State in relation to the inert and indifferent body of the territory; in truth, it would rather be the visible body of the State, or better the organs of the State: Ministries, administrations, and public establishments connected to the organs of capital, its social seats, and financial institutions. The condensation of information becomes monstrous, because the amount of information treated by the administrations and big businesses seems to grow with the decision-making power of attached to them. The accumulation of bureaucracy then appears as the continuation of capital accumulation, without drawing a line beyond which the saturation of information and the production of capital would end accumulation.

[1] Text written in September 1971.

[2] Urbanisme: utopies et réalités, Le Seuil, 1965.

[3] [Translator’s note: The Athens Charter was primarily written by the Swiss modernist architect Le Corbusier in 1933 as a summary of the Fourth Congress of the International Conference of Modern Architects (CIAM), which took place a year earlier.]

[4] [Translator’s note: I am retaining the word “equipments” as plural, both in homage to the underlying multiplicity in all of Deleuze and Guattari’s work and in keeping with the convention established by Lysa Hochroth’s translation of subsequent conversations on this article (Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961-1984, Semiotext(e), 1996, p. 105-112).]

[5] That is, as expressions of the human subject, but not as a symbolic order whose subject would be the effect.

[6] “The city can be considered a super-machine, it is technico-econnomic phenomenon in itself.” Plan et Prospectives, Les villes, l’Urbanisation, Commissariat Général au Plan, Armand Colin, 1970, tome 1, p. 29. “Here is a machine, the most complex of all human machines,” Ibid., p. 105.

[7] The industrial city also settles on the edge of energy sources or raw material and transforms that energy and natural material into social energy, into use value for social formations. The city as such, as a concentration of productive systems, functions as a cybernetic social machine of industrial capitalism.

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2 Responses to Draft Translation of Fourquet and Murard’s “La Ville-Ordinateur”

  1. stuartelden says:

    Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    Keith Harris with a draft translation of an important piece by Fourquet and Murard.

  2. Pingback: Becoming-translator | My Desiring-Machines

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