Accepted paper:

Ethnography and the "Smart City"

Authors:

Regev Nathansohn (Sapir Academic College)

Paper short abstract:

This paper asks what could ethnographic research contribute to our understanding of "Smart Cities". I begin with a review of contemporary inter-disciplinary academic literature and the various potentials for ethnographic interventions, and then focus on two ethnographic case studies.

Paper long abstract:

In the past decade, the term "Smart Cities" has become a title associated with many cities around the world and with a broad field of activity for high-tech entrepreneurs and investors. The advantages of smart cities are celebrated as designed to improve infrastructure management, government and security services and to develop mechanisms for democratization and community management. At the same time, critiques warn against widening digital divide, against digital surveillance and infringement of individual rights, against misuse of personal data, and against the tyranny of algorithms. This paper asks what could ethnographic research contribute to our understanding of "Smart Cities". I begin with a review of contemporary inter-disciplinary academic literature and the various potentials for ethnographic interventions, and then focus on two ethnographic case studies. The first case is a series of professional encounters between various "Smart Cities" entrepreneurs and decision-makers from local and national politics, and the second case is a neighborhood project, based on social-media platform, which I regard as smarting the city from bottom-up. These case studies reveal gaps between the discourse on "Smart Cities" and the practices on the ground - both in professional meetings and among neighborhood residents. While the discourse deals with technology for improving efficiency, service and security, the conduct on the ground exposes technology's limitations and an intensive need for improvisations and for solving problems stemming from conflicting interpretations of data. The case studies also reveal that technological developments do not necessarily lead to the reduction of ethno-national and class inequalities.

panel C10
Technology, infrastructure, and the smartification of cities