Category Archives: publications

New commentary: For or Against ‘The Business of Benchmarking’

A new commentary by Jim Merricks White and Rob Kitchin, ‘For or Against ‘The Business of Benchmarking’,’ has been published in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. It is a response to a paper by Michele Acuto, Daniel Pejic and Jessie Briggs.

Abstract
This short response does two things. First, it argues that urban benchmarks have
specific and structural limits not identified in the principal essay in this intervention, which
curtail the kinds of constructive and critical work such benchmarks might be expected to
perform. ISO 37120 is discussed as an example. Second, it proposes a pluralistic approach
to engagement and offers six suggestions for how academics might take urban benchmarks
and their makers seriously without becoming fully embedded in their business. These
are: ethnography, discourse analysis, self-reflexive critique, critical urban benchmarking,
alternative publication channels and scholarly debate.

PDF

New WP: Decentring the smart city

A new Programmable City Working Paper (No. 45) has been published. PDF

Decentering the smart city

Abstract
This short working paper provides a critique of the smart city and the alternative visions of its detractors, who seek a more just and equitable city. Drawing parallels with data activism and data justice, it is argued that two main approaches to recasting the smart city are being adopted: inverting the ethos and use of smart city technologies; and discontinuing and blocking their deployment. The case is made for decentring the smart city, moving away from the reification of technologies to frame and consider their work within the wider (re)production of social relations.

Key words: smart city, technological solutionism, decentring, equality, justice, citizenship

It is a pre-print of Kitchin, R. (in press) Afterword: Decentering the smart city. In Flynn, S. (ed) Equality in the City: Imaginaries of the Smart Future. Intellect, Bristol.

The core argument is captured in this passage.

We need to stop casting ‘smartness’ and digital technologies in a privileged, significant independent role and recognize them as the agents of wider structural forces. This requires us to focus on and imagine the future city in a more holistic sense, and how smartness might or might not be a means of realising a fairer, more open and tolerant city. Rather than trying to work out how to insert equality into smartness, instead the focus is squarely on equality and reconfiguring structural relations and figuring out how smart technologies can be used to create equality and equity in conjunction with other kinds of interventions, such as social, economic and environmental policy, collaborative planning, community development, investment packages, multi-stakeholder engagement, and so on.

The issues facing cities are not going to be fixed through technological solutionism, but a multifaceted approach in which technology is one just one component (Morozov and Bria 2018). Homelessness is not going to be fixed with an app; it requires a complex set of interventions of which technology might be one part, along with health care and welfare reform, tackling domestic abuse, and a shift in the underlying logics of the political economy (Eubanks 2017). Congestion is not going to be fixed with intelligent transport systems that seek to optimize traffic flow, but by shifting people from car-based travel to public transit, cycling and walking. Similarly, institutionalized racism channelled and reproduced through predictive policing will not be fixed solely by tinkering with the data and algorithms to make them more robust, transparent and fairer, but by addressing institutionalized racism more generally and the conditions that enable it (Benjamin 2019).

In such a decentred perspective, platform and surveillance capitalism are not framed as separate and distinct forms of capitalism, and racism expressed through smart urbanism is not cut adrift from the structural logics and operations of institutionalized racism (understood in purely technical and legal terms). Rather, smart city technologies and their operations are framed with respect to capitalism and racism per se, and the solutions are anti-capitalist alternatives and anti-racism in which smart city technologies might or might not play some part.

Read more Paper PDF

Rob Kitchin

New Book: Citizens in the ‘Smart City’: Participation, Co-production, Governance

Citizens in the ‘Smart City’: Participation, Co-Production, Governance

By Paolo Cardullo

Published by Routledge; ISBN 9780429438806

This book critically examines ‘smart city’ discourse in terms of governance initiatives, citizen participation and policies which place emphasis on the ‘citizen’ as an active recipient and co-producer of technological solutions to urban problems.

The current hype around smart cities and digital technologies has sparked debates in the fields of citizenship, urban studies and planning surrounding the rights and ethics of participation. It also sparked debates around the forms of governance these technologies actively foster. This book presents new socio-technological systems of governance that monitor citizen power, trust-building strategies, and social capital. It calls for new data economics and digital rights for a city founded on normative ideals rather than neoliberal ones. It adopts a normative approach arguing that a ‘reloaded’ smart city should foster citizenship as a new set of civil and social rights and the ‘citizen’ as a subject vested with active and meaningful forms of participation and political power. Ultimately, the book questions the utility of the ‘smart city’ project for radical municipalism, proposing a technological enough but more democratic city, an ‘intelligent city’ in fact.

Offering useful contribution to smart city initiatives for the protection of emerging digital citizenship rights and socially accrued benefits, this book will draw the interest of researchers, policymakers, and professionals in the fields of urban studies, urban planning, urban geography, computing and technology studies, urban politics and urban economics.

New book: Slow Computing: Why We Need Balanced Digital Lives

A BOOK ABOUT TAKING CONTROL OF OUR DIGITAL LIVES

By Rob Kitchin and Alistair Fraser

Digital technologies should be making life easier. And to a large degree they do, transforming everyday tasks of work, consumption, communication, travel and play. But they are also accelerating and fragmenting our lives affecting our well-being and exposing us to extensive data extraction and profiling that helps determine our life chances.

Is it then possible to experience the joy and benefits of computing, but to do so in a way that asserts individual and collective autonomy over our time and data?

Drawing on the ideas of the ‘slow movement’, Slow Computing sets out numerous practical and political means to take back control and counter the more pernicious effects of living digital lives.

1 Living Digital Lives (PDF)
2 Accelerating Life
3 Monitoring Life
4 Personal Strategies of Slow Computing
5 Slow Computing Collectively
6 An Ethics of Digital Care
7 Towards a More Balanced Digital Society
Coda: Slow Computing During a Pandemic (PDF)

ISBN 978-1529211269

Book website

Bristol University Press, £14.99 or $26.00; 20% discount (£11.99 or $20.80) at: Bristol University Press, or £9.75 if sign up for BUP newsletter. Select ‘Click to order from North America, Canada and South America’ to get dollar price.

New paper: Civil liberties or public health, or civil liberties and public health?

A new paper by Rob Kitchin has been published in Space and Polity examining the implications to civil liberties of using surveillance technologies to tackle the spread of COVID-19.

Civil liberties or public health, or civil liberties and public health? Using surveillance technologies to tackle the spread of COVID-19

PDF of paper

Abstract

To help tackle the spread of COVID-19 a range of surveillance technologies – smartphone apps, facial recognition and thermal cameras, biometric wearables, smart helmets, drones, and predictive analytics – have been rapidly developed and deployed. Used for contact tracing, quarantine enforcement, travel permission, social distancing/movement monitoring, and symptom tracking, their rushed rollout has been justified by the argument that they are vital to suppressing the virus, and civil liberties have to be sacrificed for public health. I challenge these contentions, questioning the technical and practical efficacy of surveillance technologies, and examining their implications for civil liberties, governmentality, surveillance capitalism, and public health.

Keywords: coronavirus; COVID-19; surveillance; civil liberties; governmentality; citizenship; contact tracing; quarantine; movement; technological solutionism; spatial sorting; social sorting; privacy; control creep; data minimization; surveillance capitalism; ethics; data justice.

 

Using digital technologies to tackle the spread of the coronavirus: Panacea or folly?

Update: a revised version of this working paper has now been published as open access in Space and Polity.

A new paper by Rob Kitchin (Programmable City Working Paper 44) examines whether digital technologies will be effective in tackling the spread of the coronavirus, considers their potential negative costs vis-a-vis civil liberties, citizenship, and surveillance capitalism (see table below), and details what needs to happen.

PDF of working paper          (PDF of revised version in Space and Polity)

Using digital technologies to tackle the spread of the coronavirus: Panacea or folly?

Abstract
Digital technology solutions for contact tracing, quarantine enforcement (digital fences) and movement permission (digital leashes), and social distancing/movement monitoring have been proposed and rolled-out to aid the containment and delay phases of the coronavirus and mitigate against second and third waves of infections. In this essay, I examine numerous examples of deployed and planned technology solutions from around the world, assess their technical and practical feasibility and potential to make an impact, and explore the dangers of tech-led approaches vis-a-vis civil liberties, citizenship, and surveillance capitalism. I make the case that the proffered solutions for contact tracing and quarantining and movement permissions are unlikely to be effective and pose a number of troubling consequences, wherein the supposed benefits will not outweigh potential negative costs. If these concerns are to be ignored and the technologies deployed, I argue that they need to be accompanied by mass testing and certification, and require careful and transparent use for public health only, utilizing a privacy-by-design approach with an expiration date, proper oversight, due processes, and data minimization that forbids data sharing, repurposing and monetization.

Keywords: coronavirus; COVID-19; surveillance; governmentality; citizenship; civil liberties; contact tracing; quarantine; movement; technological solutionism; spatial sorting; social sorting; privacy; control creep; data minimization; surveillance capitalism; ethics; data justice.

coronavirus tech issues