Seminar 2 (video): Gillian Rose – Tweeting the Smart City

We are delighted to share the video of our second seminar in our 2017/18 series, entitled Tweeting the Smart City: The Affective Enactments of the Smart City on Social Media given by Professor Gillian Rose from Oxford University on the 26th October 2017 and co-hosted with the Geography Department at Maynooth University.

Digital technologies of various kinds are now the means through which many cities are made visible and their spatialities negotiated. From casual snaps shared on Instagram to elaborate photo-realistic visualisations, digital technologies for making, distributing and viewing cities are more and more pervasive. This talk will explore some of the implications of that digital mediation of urban spaces. What forms of urban life are being made visible in these digitally mediated cities, and how? Through what configurations of temporality, spatiality and embodiment? And how should that picturing be theorised? Drawing on recent work on the visualisation of so-called ‘smart cities’ on social media, the lecture will suggest the scale and pervasiveness of digital imagery now means that notions of ‘representation’ have to be rethought. Cities and their inhabitants are increasingly mediated through a febrile cloud of streaming image files; as well as representing cities, this cloud also operationalises particular, affective ways of being urban. The lecture will explore some of the implications of this shift for both theory and method as well as critique.

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.



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

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)

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)

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.

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.

Video: Right to the Smart City Session 3: Co-creation and City Governance

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


Appropriating ‘big data’: exploring the emancipatory potential of the data strategies of civil society organisations in Cape Town, South Africa
Nancy Odendaal (Cape Town, South Africa):

The smart city strategies of municipalities in South Africa have been grounded in developmentalism, seeking to harness the power of technology to enable improved governance. Cities such as Durban and Cape Town have embraced infrastructure-led approaches that seek to use state-mediated broadband ‘backbone’ development to enable last-mile ICT access to marginalised communities. With the advent of big data, the range of actors in the ICT-local government terrain has broadened to include partnerships with IT-multinationals and management consultants to streamline municipal bureaucratic procedures, enable data processing and contribute to greater efficiency. An important driver is the increasingly urgent need to accelerate the delivery of essential services whilst also encouraging investment and development through greater efficacy, (in processing development applications for example). This is the delicate balancing act that the City of Cape Town is aiming to achieve: broadening its tax base while delivering basic services to a vocal and largely dissatisfied populace. A ‘dashboard urbanism’ is becoming evident as access to a broadened range of data sources fits well with the system of indicators and performance monitoring that is embedded in the managerial South Africa’s local government system. The danger of an overreliance on these quantitative aspects is that it may overshadow the more qualitative aspects of development. Reinforcing a commitment to the ‘numbers game’, rather than paying attention to the finer details of socio-economic development, could perpetuate divides in what is considered to be one of the most unequal cities in the world. Based on exploratory research, this paper explores an emerging trend amongst civil society organisations that seek to collect, generate and process data as a form of empowerment and response to the state’s failure to respond adequately to social development pressures. Strategies range from self-enumeration, to participatory mapping, and online campaigning. This paper concludes on what these qualities of the ‘bottom-up smart city’ are, how it challenges the assumptions of ‘dashboard urbanism’ and such initiatives could potentially contribute to a more rounded appropriation of big data and a deepened and contextualized urban experience.


Smart flows? Commodification, commons and consumption for smarter cities
Anna Davies (TCD)

Defining environmental governance as the sum of the ways we manage our environmental affairs, this paper compares and contrasts efforts to reorient resource consumption in the city onto more sustainable pathways through the utilisation of ICT. Drawing on an experimental transdisciplinary process of collaborative visioning and backcasting conducted in Dublin, Ireland, this paper begins by sketching the ways in which governing actors envisage a smarter system for managing two contrasting resources that are fundamental to cities and their citizens. The first of these, water, remains a public good in Ireland, but it is becoming increasingly commodified. The second, food, is seen as a private good but there are ongoing calls to reconceptualise it as a common good. Both are fundamental requirements for life and considered by the United Nations as human rights, with ‘zero hunger’ and ‘clean water and sanitation’ identified as sustainable development goals in the post-2015 development agenda. The second part of the paper compares and contrasts two of the ways in which ICT is being rolled out in these arenas in Dublin, water metering and surplus food redistribution, and links these developments to the wider governing context that shapes them. The ‘smart’ metering of water in Ireland has been an exercise in top-down, technocratic governance played out with close relations between state and the private sector, resulting in intense reactions and collective actions from an excluded citizenry. Surplus food redistribution in contrast has been led by grassroots action in collaboration with social innovators and the private sector – frequently in the absence of appropriate regulations – in what has been suggested is a hybrid tri-centric governance system shaped by market rules, public regulations and collective actions. Whilst the histories, practices and infrastructures of these two resources are highly differentiated, it is argued that there are possibilities for cross-fertilisation of lessons for both sectors in terms of managing flows and engaging citizens.


Democratic Rationalizations in the Bikeshare Sector
Robert Bradshaw (Maynooth)

With its emphasis on the transformative power of information and communications technologies, discourses on the “smart city” make the promise not only of economic rewards through improved infrastructure management, competitive advantage and job creation but also the empowering of citizens by enabling the co-production of infrastructure, decisions, and policy. Presented in this way the city is framed as a platform which empowers participatory processes. Connecting data, people and knowledge, it is envisioned as a productive hub for the construction of the city by its people. Using a lens derived from Andrew Feenberg’s critical theory of technology, this paper reports on research conducted in Dublin and Hamilton (Canada) which explored these themes though an analysis of the design and implementation strategies mobilized by these cities in the creation their respective smart bikeshare systems. The findings reveal the technologies to be the product of context-dependant, socio-technical assemblages which position citizenship and co-production in distinctive and contrasting ways. While Dublin’s managerialist form of governance produced a technocratic, instrumental design which understands, and perpetuates, citizens as passive consumers of services and information, Hamilton combined institutional expertise and lay experience to create a generative technology which embodies a diverse but complimentary set of goals and ideologies. Understanding the processes by which both these systems we conceived and concretized may help us understand how normative and ethical considerations relating to citizenship can be embedded and preserved in technology production.

New paper: A smart place to work? Big data systems, labour, control, and modern retail stores

Leighton Evans and Rob Kitchin have published a new Programmable City working paper (No. 34): A smart place to work? Big data systems, labour, control, and modern retail stores.


The modern retail store is a complex coded assemblage and data-intensive environment, its operations and management mediated by a number of interlinked big data systems. This paper draws on an ethnography of a superstore in Ireland to examine how these systems modulate the functioning of the store and working practices of employees. It was found that retail work involves a continual movement between a governance regime of control reliant on big data systems which seek to regulate and harnesses formal labour and automation into enterprise planning, and a disciplinary regime that deals with the symbolic, interactive labour that workers perform and acts as a reserve mode of governmentality if control fails. This continual movement is caused by new systems of control being open to vertical and horizontal fissures. While retail functions as a coded assemblage of control, systems are too brittle to sustain the code/space and governmentality desired.

Access the PDF here

Video: Right to the Smart City Session 2: Urban Commons

If you missed the video of the presentation in Session 1 on citizenship, you can watch them here.



Citizens for Digital Social Innovation: Between Smartness and Commoning?
Ramon Ribera-Fumaz (UoC, Barcelona)

Smart City strategies has been widely criticised as top-down post-political forms of governance. More recently, however, the idea of smart citizens empowered by smart technologies has gained prominence in the smart city discourse. For its advocates, the deployment of ICT in urban development promises more informed and efficient citizens, who are able to become active actors of economic growth and urban management and politics. In contrast, in recent years, there have been emerging counter-smart strategies on how to implicate and re-politicise citizens in more democratic forms through the intensive use of technologies. In both cases, it is argued that this is possible thanks to (a) new technological architectures and infrastructures that allow to put the citizen in the middle of urban governance (e.g. open source software, open data, crowdsourcing, Internet of things, low-cost hardware, etc), and, (b) new forms of urban governance such as quadruple helix models, public-private-people partnerships or sharing economy platforms in the case of Smart solutions, and p2p and communing for the later based on those architectures. In particular, these new, a priori emancipatory, forms of social organization are framed and argued through discourses of social innovation and more recently Digital Social Innovation (DSI). This paper explores the deployment of DSI initiatives aimed at empowering citizens in Barcelona. In doing so it contrasts how citizenship and DSI are conceptualised both under the umbrella of Smart City and Urban Commons strategies and what are the limits and potentialities in productively reframe, reimagine and remade citizenship and democracy through technologically driven urban governance.


Datafying the commons: data publics and smart citizenship
Michiel de Lange (Utrecht, Netherlands)

The proliferation of (big) urban data is spurring a research and design agenda that aims to increase and improve civic participation in the smart city. This agenda around civic media attempts to counter or complement the dominant rhetoric of efficiency and solutionism in corporate smart city visions. The promise of data is that it helps to address some of the complex societal ‘wicked problems’ that cities face. A variety of organizations work on fostering a ’data commons’ as a potentially valuable new resource for making decisions about urban futures, ideally with the involvement of people. A well-known example is Code for America and its various offsprings in other places in the world. By now it has become clear that just opening up data is not yet going to do much yet. How can we reimagine data as civic data, fostering engagement among so-called smart citizens with issues of common concern?
My starting point is to understand the ways data shape our notion of urban commons and publics. I discern three dominant theoretical imaginaries of urban publicness, each with their own ’urban interface’. This allows me to explore how data-driven urbanism may constitute new commonality and publicness.
First is a rational view of urban publicness. This entails a deliberative and supra-identitarian search for commonality, while ignoring difference. In terms of urban interfacing, this type of public is situated in early metropolis coffee houses with reading and debating tables.
Second is an emotional foundation of publicness, based on experiencing and consuming co-presence and difference though sensations, affect, and embodiment. Personal preferences are not something to be overcome but at the heart of this communal spectacle. The urban interfaces here are the sensual gazes and bodies of modern metropolitan flaneurs revelling in a dramaturgy of staging and watching.
Thirdly, a ritual publicness emerges from everyday symbolic interactions such as civil inattention, typically in spaces of mobility in the late modern city. The urban interface here is ‘code’: scripted common behavior between urban strangers.
The next step is to consider how data may support new kinds of publicness and civic participation. I so by building on the ownership framework developed in earlier work, which bears strong similarities to the Lefebvrian idea of the right to the city. Both refer to a non-contractual collective sense of common stewardship, and the right to appropriate. A series of short cases illustrate how data can play in role in:
1. Creating data-driven networked publics
2. Articulating an otherwise abstract issue through data
3. Engaging people with an issue by sensing and/or narrating through data
4. Providing a horizon for action
5. Pooling resources in reciprocal ways.
In the final part I reflect on the some of the challenges and questions that arise from the above. Issues that are addressed include the tension between self-description vs other-ascription, agency and the governance of/by platforms, splintering urban publics, and institutional legitimacy of governing civic data. This section ends by tentatively exploring how this affects existing imaginaries of data-driven urban publicness, and may impel us to imagine new ones.


Smart Commons or a smart approach to the Commons?
Paolo Cardullo (Maynooth)

The paper offers a critical evaluation of smart cities (SC) in relation to the urban commons. This is intended as the space produced through practices of urban commoning, processes of cooperation and social reproduction, and entitlement rights. Both supporters and critics of the SC often claim to tap into the ‘collective intelligence of the crowd’, a socially accrued value which we can refer to, at its best, as a ‘smart commons’. However, this view hides the social relationship the commons implies because the maintenance of the commons is intrinsically linked to the everyday materiality of social reproduction. Instead, the paper suggests a ‘smart approach’ to the commons, which takes into account both the city as a commons and the way in which urban commons is produced under advanced capitalism. The ‘communal city’ would re-imagine the exchange of value and utilities between SC and its citizens and it can develop, the paper argues, only by taking into account established and expanding collective rights and entitlements such as: shared ownership of critical infrastructures, ‘rent’ and mechanisms of remuneration for digital labour, and processes of governance with Lo-Fi or non-tech practices of urban commoning which produce collectivities rather than interconnected individuals.