Accepted Paper:

Doing the future in smart imaginaries and infrastructures  


Willem Schinkel (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper, I look at smart imaginaries and infrastructures in the context of smart cities and the Internet of Things. I ask how time is configured in such imaginaries, particularly in the entanglement of imaginaries and infrastructures.

Paper long abstract:

Smart city technologies are usually considered in terms of the efficiency of urban processes and the optimization of the city. As such, they exhibit a concern with flow and circulation typical of a logistical logic. On the one hand, this promotes just-in-time logics in which the past is erased and the future becomes an open-ended series of technological refinements, optimizations and tests (Halpern et al. 2013). On the other hand, the technologies involved often exhibit forms of techno-utopianism and promise enhanced quality of life and democratic participation.

I argue that looking at the algorithmic character of smart technologies helps reveal the particular ways in which time is 'done' in smart technologies. In particular, the use of Markov Chains erases the past of urban processes, including a variety of political choices and struggles. It enables the configuration of futures as independent from the past, dependent only on the current condition of the city as measured in continuous monitoring systems. Along the way, both the outcomes of political struggles in the past and alternative futures are excised. I argue that to imagine the future differently means to bring back the social and the political. Practically, this means asking questions that cannot be addressed in the logistical logics of smart technologies. STS research therefore has a task in making futures public by scrutinizing the entanglements of smart imaginaries and infrastructures.

Panel T028
Futures in the making and re-making