Author Archives: Sung-Yueh Perng

New paper: Shared technology making in neoliberal ruins

A new Programmable City working paper (No. 38) has been published by Sung-Yueh Perng and is entitled ‘Shared technology making in neoliberal ruins: Rationalities, practices and possibilities of hackathons‘.

Abstract
Shared technology making refers to the practices, spaces and events that bear the hope and belief that collaborative and open ways of designing, making and modifying technology can improve our ways of living. Shared technology making in the context of the smart city reinvigorates explorations of the possibility of free, open and collaborative ways of engineering urban spaces, infrastructures and public life. Open innovation events and civic hacking initiatives often encourage members of local communities, residents, or city administrations to participate so that the problems they face and the knowledge they possess can be leveraged to develop innovations from the working (and failure) of urban everyday life and (non-)expert knowledges. However, the incorporation of shared technology making into urban contexts engender concerns around the right to participate in shared technology- and city-making. This paper addresses this issue by suggesting ways to consider both the neoliberal patterning of shared technology making and the patches and gaps that show the future possibility of shared city making. It explores the ways in which shared technology making are organised using hackathons and other hacking initiatives as an example. By providing a hackathon typology and detailed accounts of the experiences of organisers and participants of related events, the paper reconsiders the neoliberalisation of shared technology making. It attends to the multiple, entangled and conflictual relationships that do not follow corporate logic for considering the possibilities of more open and collaborative ways of technology- and city-making.

Paper download

Video: Slow computing workshop, afternoon sessions

Happy New Year!

As promised, we are sharing the video of the presentations in the afternoon sessions of the Slow Computing workshop. To catch up the keynote and papers in the morning, see here.

Aphra Kerr (Maynooth University) – Bringing the citizen back into the Algorithmic Age

Adi Kuntsman and Esperanza Miyake (Manchester Metropolitan University) – Digital disengagement as a right and a privilege: Challenges and socio-political possibilities of refusal in dataised times

Kate Symons (University of Edinburgh) – OxChain – Reshaping development donors and recipients

Gabriela Avram (University of Limerick) – Community networks as a form of resistance

Rachel O’Dwyer (Trinity College Dublin) – Coined liberty: Cash as resistance to transactional dataveillance

Lindsay Ems (Butler University) – Global resistance through technology non-use: An Amish case

Video: Slow computing workshop, session 1

On the 14th December, we organised the event Slow computing: A workshop on resistance in the algorithmic age. We are processing the video from the day, slowly of course, for those of you who could not attend or those who did but would like to relive the many interesting talks again.

To kick-off, we are sharing the video from the first session. More will follow in the new year, so stay tuned!

Introduction: Rob Kitchin and Alistair Fraser (Maynooth University) – Slow computing

Keynote: Stefania Milan (University of Amsterdam and University of Oslo) – Resist, subvert, accelerate

Nancy Ettlinger (Ohio State University) – Algorithmic affordances for resistance

Video: Right to the Smart City Session 5: Shared City Making

Catch up with the video of previous sessions: Session 1, Session 2, Session 3 and Session 4.

 

SESSION 5: SHARED CITY MAKING

Toward an Actual Theory of the City: “Civic Tech” as a Mid-Level, Organic Model of Urban Change
Andrew Schrock (Chapman, USA)

Abstract
“We don’t simply want to take a predictive analytics view of the world,” Nigel Jacobs told me, “because that means that we will never have an actual theory of the city.” Nigel co-founded the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM), the most long-lived innovation team in the country and among the most respected. MONUM took an omnivorous, experimental approach to urban improvement. They tried everything from using iPhones to detect potholes and retrofitting a food truck as a “city hall to go.” The office is relatively autonomous, insulating collaborators from risk while running small-scale experiments to tangibly improve life for residents. Nigel’s grounded, iterative approach with MONUM aligned with my conversations and collaborations over the last several years with other civic technologists who used similar language to describe their goals and practices.
The benefits and drawbacks of “civic tech” are hotly debated. Policy makers see civic tech as a helpful way to balance competing demands in government for external participation and internal efficiency. Critical scholars regard it as Silicon Valley style tech “solutionism,” while political scientists believe it stretches thin a model of the informed citizen. Civic technologists themselves embrace such a variety of practices – participatory design, agile development, and open government – that they struggle to articulate shared convictions characteristic of social movements. As a result, they are often misunderstood as yet another elitist model of technocratic change. In this paper I explore a more nuanced alternative: civic technologists like Nigel Jacobs are engaging in theorizing about how to change notoriously obdurate systems (e.g. Weberian bureaucracy and built urban environment).
My intention in this paper – to situate civic tech as a mid-level, organic model of urban change – is far from armchair theorizing. We need shared models to collaborate, not just platforms and data. In this paper I follow how theories of Tocqueville, Robert E. Park, and Jane Jacobs arose from in situ interventions and reflexive interpretation. Second, I map how an organic model of change in “civic tech” contrasts with a dominant “smart cities” vision. Civic tech is a politically left effort that embraces small, scalable interventions and collaborations that change systems, tangibly improving lives of residents. Civic technologists use technology in tandem with infrastructure, policy, and process change. Behind a veneer of politically neutral liberalism lies a more radical approach that seeks to re-configure the very building blocks of democracy.

 

Participatory Urban Sensing: a Blueprint for a Community-led Smart City
Catherine D’Ignazio, Eric Gordon & Elizabeth Christoforetti (Emerson, USA)

Abstract
The ability to gather, store and make meaning from large amounts of sensor data is becoming a technological and financial reality for cities. Many of these initiatives are happening through deals brokered between vendors, developers and cities. They are made manifest in the environment as infrastructure – invisible to citizens and communities. We assert that in order to have community-centered smart cities, we need to transform sensor data collection and usage from invisible infrastructure into visible and legible interface. In this paper, we compare two different urban sensing initiatives and examine the methods used for feedback between sensors and people. We question how value gets produced and communicated to citizens in urban sensing projects and what kind of oversight and ethical considerations are necessary. Finally, we make a case for “seamful” interfaces between communities, sensors and cities that reveal their inner workings for the purposes of civic pedagogy and dialogue. We conclude with five preliminary design principles for a community-centered smart city.

 

Programming rights to shared technology making
Sung-Yueh Perng (Maynooth)

Abstract
Shared technology making refers to the practices, spaces and events that bear the hope and belief that collaborative and open ways of designing, making and modifying technology can improve our ways of living. Shared technology making in the context of the smart city, where a majority of such events, initiatives and spaces are organised, reinvigorates explorations of the possibility of free, open and collaborative ways of engineering urban spaces, infrastructures and public life. Open innovation events and civic hacking initiatives often encourage members of local communities, residents or city administrations to participate, so that the problems they face and the knowledge they obtain can be leveraged to develop innovations from the working (and failure) of urban everyday life and (non-)expert knowledges. However, the incorporation of shared technology making into urban contexts and processes engender problems and concerns around the rights to participate in shared technology- and city-making. This paper addresses the issue by suggesting ways to consider both the neoliberal patterning of shared technology making and the patches and gaps that show the future possibility of shared technology- and city-making.

Video: Right to the Smart City Session 4: Public Labs, Citizen-centric Living Labs, Citizen Science

Catch up with the video of previous sessions: Session 1, Session 2 and Session 3.

 

SESSION 4: PUBLIC LABS, CITIZEN-CENTRIC LIVING LABS, CITIZEN SCIENCE

Matters of fact and matters of concern: issues of legitimacy, trust and resistance in citizen science
Tara Whelan (Limerick)

Abstract
This paper examines the tension between institutional science and citizen science. While ample consideration has been given to questions of the legitimacy of science done with and by citizens (i.e. scientist-led projects involving citizens, and citizen-led projects involving the scientific community, respectively), less attention has been afforded to citizen scientists whose practice operates wholly (and sometimes deliberately) outside the boundaries of the scientific academy. Rather than engaging with questions regarding how to, and who may, produce academically credible knowledge, this critical approach to citizen science is concerned with tackling personal, cosmopolitical, and explicitly value-laden approaches to knowledge production. In its tactical circumvention of the academy, critical citizen science can offer pertinent critiques of how science is done, and to what ends, as well as addressing issues of agency, universality, and the tension (and overlap) between “matters of fact” and “matters of concern”. This paper examines a number of cases of citizen-led science and explores what motivates citizens to take on the role of scientist.

 

Smart cities by design? Interrogating human-centred design as a tool for civic participation
Gabriele Schliwa (Manchester, UK)

Abstract
Citizen participation in urban governance has established itself as a paradigm, promising greater democracy, empowerment and more cost-effective public service delivery against the backdrop of increased urban conflicts. The dominant focus on the ‘citizen’ or even ‘smart citizen’ in the context of smart cities and urban innovation is however a relatively recent phenomenon. While the smart urbanism agenda fails to realise added value for cities and citizens alike due to a lack of acceptance and trust, a growing number of initiatives seeks to revamp the smart city as ‘human smart city’. Therein, design thinking and human-centred design have become the buzzwords of choice to describe ‘putting people first’ approaches to develop solutions tailored to citizens’ needs. What was previously known as user-centred design in the context of ICT product and service development, now proliferates the urban through a variety of organisations and initiatives such as innovation labs, living labs or civic hackathons. Just as urban infrastructures often only become visible and disrupt cities when they fail, good design is invisible and might function strategically like a ‘Trojan Horse’.
So what are the implications of using ‘human-centred design’ in the smart city context? And moreover, how does ‘human-centred design’ and ’design thinking’ fit into urban scholarship? This draft paper renders often implicit design processes explicit. It finds that the design industry offers ’design thinking’ as process commodity to facilitate citizen participation in innovation workshops and smart city initiatives. A variety of versions and (re-)appropriations of ‘design thinking’ increasingly link social innovation with military innovation processes, however the political implications of mobilising ‘design thinking’ as mode of governing are yet unknown. While ‘governing through design’ is becoming big business with the support of meta government and philantrocapitalists, existing research is dominated by private sector institutions. Drawing upon ongoing research in Manchester and Amsterdam, this draft paper encourages urban scholarship to critically engage with this emerging trend and to develop a research agenda that further links urban with design research.

 

Calculating publics and citizenship distributed sensing
Claudio Coletta & Caspar Menkman (Maynooth)

Abstract
This paper deals with the secondary effects of the integration of sensing devices into publicly accessible infrastructures. The smart promise that foreground an increase in efficiency and sustainability has now been widely documented. Therefore we shift the attention to how the proliferation of sensors and systems of calculation impact not on those systems themselves but rather how they impact on publics and the modes of differentiated citizenship they generate as a result. We do so by focussing on smart meters and energy infrastructure on the one hand and sensing devices and Low-Power Wide-Area Networks (LPWANs) on the other.
Across both cases we recognize a common shift. That is, through the addition of sensing devices traditional regimes of undifferentiated access to the public are acted upon. Rather it is through the addition of sensing devices that new regimes emerge that emphasise not ‘access to’ as the penultimate goal, but focus on forms of active management and governance of those spaces and infrastructures vis-a-vis their publics. A practical infrastructural inversion is what follows.
The politics of supply and management that comes with this infrastructural transition are acted upon by these sensing networks. Where these systems previously organic and operated according to a demand-following logics, they now follow that of calculation. This is where experimental circumstances like test-beds and living labs emerge not as incidents, but as part of a persistent reality of the public. We argue that in the same way as citizens are instrumented as sensing devices, publics become a prosthesis to those infrastructures initially designed as a service to them. What emerges are more hybrid and flexible relations between infrastructure and their publics as well as new civic rationalities and citizenship contingent on sensed environmental relations. Thus conceived, such infrastructures raise a number of concerns from an STS perspective regarding the relations between centralised and distributed calculation, differentiation of access, as well as the kinds and agency of publics mobilised.

Video: Seminar 1: Sophia Maalsen – Where is the Smart House in the Smart City?

We are happy to share the video of our first seminar entitled Where is the Smart House in the Smart City? given by Dr. Sophia Maalsen, IB Fell Fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning.

Abstract
Increasing attention is directed to smart cities as their popularity as a ‘fix all’ for the economic, environmental and social challenges facing cities, continues to grow. Contemporaneously, there is a growing amount of literature on the smart home and smart housing, likewise positioned as a smart solution to environmental, economic and social problems. Despite the increased activity in these two ‘smart’ areas, there is little research that addresses smart housing in context of the smart city. Furthermore, in the limited research on smart housing, a comparatively small amount of literature addresses their ‘smart’ nature from a social science perspective. Of the scant literature that addresses both the smart house, even less does so from a social science lens of analysis, with publications predominantly located in the computer sciences and engineering. This is problematic on multiple levels. First, the dominance of computer science and engineering literature on both smart cities and smart houses, privileges technological solutions to city and housing issues and contends that improvement will be an automatic outcome of technology, rather than understanding how people can use the technology for better outcomes. Secondly, the relative absence of housing in smart city discourse makes invisible a key component of the city and its broader web of relations, flows of people, capital, materials and resources. In this seminar, she discusses these gaps in the literature, identifies why this is problematic and suggests areas where the smart city and smart housing intersect.