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Accepted Paper:

Making “smart” streetlights public: community histories and imagined affordances  
Lilly Irani (UC San Diego)

Short abstract:

This talk will present an analysis of how community organizers succeeded where journalists failed, mobilizing diverse publics by translating the potential harms of "smart" streetlights by drawing on diverse community histories of institutionalized violence.

Long abstract:

This paper sketches an epistemology of technology drawn from the practices of residents, especially community organizers, attempting to know “smart city” projects in San Diego, a highly militarized border city. I present two years participant-observation of the work of a 30-organization coalition that responded to San Diego’s acquisition of 3,000 surveillance-technology equipped streetlights by calling for oversight policies while also defunding several smart city technologies, including the “smart streetlights” and Shotspotter gunshot detection systems.

When journalists first published about the “smart” streetlights, there was little public outcry – only whispers among San Diego’s governmentally-connected civic tech publics. A year later, however, racial justice organizers were able to translate the technology into narratives that could mobilize wider publics to make demands on the city. Organizers’ accomplished this not only by investigating the technologies’ present configurations but by speculating about target technologies’ future possibilities. Organizers drew not only on documentation of or interaction with the technologies or technology companies, but personal and community histories of their interactions with the institutional sponsors of the technologies, such as San Diego Police Department, the FBI, or Border Patrol. Organizers drew on differentiated histories of repression, enclosure, and extraction to imagine the affordances of the smart streetlights and diversify the publics engaged in the controversy over surveillance in San Diego’s smart city.

Traditional Open Panel P142
Datafied publics
  Session 2 Thursday 18 July, 2024, -