Tag Archives: SSRN

New paper: From a Single Line of Code to an Entire City

A new paper by Rob Kitchin has been posted as open access on SSRN.  From a Single Line of Code to an Entire City: Reframing Thinking on Code and the City is The Programmable City Working Paper 4.

Cities are rapidly becoming composed of digitally-mediated components and infrastructures, their systems augmented and mediated by software, with widespread consequences for how they are managed, governed and experienced. This transformation has been accompanied by critical scholarship that has sought to understand the relationship between code and the city. Whilst this work has produced many useful insights, in this paper I argue that it also has a number of shortcomings. Principal amongst these is that the literatures concerning code and the city have remained quite divided. Studies that focus on code are often narrow in remit, fading out the city, and tend to fetishize and potentially decontextualises code at the expense of the wider socio-technical assemblage within which it is embedded. Studies that focus on the city tend to examine the effects of code, but rarely unpack the constitution and mechanics of the code producing those effects. To provide a more holistic account of the relationship between code and the city I forward two interlinked conceptual frameworks. The first places code within a wider socio-technical assemblage. The second conceives the city as being composed of millions of such assemblages. In so doing, the latter seeks to provide a means of productively building a conceptual and empirical understanding of programmable urbanism that scales from individual lines of code to the complexity of an entire urban system.

Keywords: code, city, software, programmable urbanism, software studies, smart city, urban studies, assemblages


New paper: Thinking critically about and researching algorithms

A new paper by Rob Kitchin has been posted as open access on SSRNThinking critically about and researching algorithms is The Programmable City Working Paper 5.

The era of ubiquitous computing and big data is now firmly established, with more and more aspects of our everyday lives being mediated, augmented, produced and regulated by digital devices and networked systems powered by software.  Software is fundamentally composed of algorithms — sets of defined steps structured to process instructions/data to produce an output.  And yet, to date, there has been little critical reflection on algorithms, nor empirical research into their nature and work.  This paper synthesises and extends initial critical thinking about algorithms and considers how best to research them in practice.  It makes a case for thinking about algorithms in ways that extend far beyond a technical understanding and approach.  It then details four key challenges in conducting research on the specificities of algorithms — they are often: ‘black boxed’; heterogeneous, contingent on hundreds of other algorithms, and are embedded in complex socio-technical assemblages; ontogenetic and performative; and ‘out of control’ in their work.  Finally, it considers six approaches to empirically research algorithms: examining source code (both deconstructing code and producing genealogies of production); reflexively producing code; reverse engineering; interviewing designers and conducting ethnographies of coding teams; unpacking the wider socio-technical assemblages framing algorithms; and examining how algorithms do work in the world.

Key words: algorithm, code, epistemology, research