(C13)
Assembling the smart city: exploring the contours of social difference
Location Room 17
Date and Start Time 26 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Alan-Miguel Valdez (The Open University) email
  • Matthew Cook (Open University) email
  • Nick Bingham (The Open University) email

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Chair Nick Bingham (Open University)

Short abstract

Smart' cities are being figured as meeting places where multifarious things come together gathered by a vision of digital-led urban transformation. This panel invites contributions that follow some aspect of this to better understand how Smart participates in patterning social difference.

Long abstract

'Smart' cities are being figured as meeting places where multifarious things come together gathered by a vision of digital-led urban transformation. This panel invites contributions that follow some aspect of this to better understand how Smart participates in patterning social difference. By curating rich accounts of smart cities in the making, in this panel we are interested in bringing the problematic of Smart into view and exploring how specifically, it (re)shapes contours of social difference. We argue this is a 'matter of composition' in two related senses. First, Smart initiatives change what the cities where they are situated are composed of in various ways. Sensors, servers, data, hubs; if the urban is always constituted of all sorts of heterogeneous materialities, the social of smart cities is populated with new, more, and different sorts of things and relations. Second, Smart initiatives change how the cities where they are situated are composed. If the urban is never singular but instead a multiple object-space, the social of smart cities is known, managed, governed and so on in new, more, and different ways. By better understanding both precisely what sorts of material practices come together in specific smart city situations such as smart governance practices and how those material practices are configured by the ways those situations are always already saturated with power, we seek insight into what sorts of activity, what sorts of ways of urban life do specific versions of Smart make more or less possible; when, where, for whom?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Smart cities in the making: learning from Milton Keynes

Authors: Nick Bingham (The Open University) email
Gillian Rose (University of Oxford) email
Alan-Miguel Valdez (The Open University) email
Matthew Cook (Open University) email
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Short abstract

This paper reports on our initial attempts to think through the results of an extended empirical exploration of Milton Keynes as a smart city in the making in order to offer insights into how the urban is composed in the age of austerity, and to whose benefit.

Long abstract

This paper reports on our initial attempts to think through the results of an extended empirical exploration of Milton Keynes as a smart city in the making. Focused on how Smart initiatives are making a difference to the social fabric of this large, rapidly growing town in the East of England, our fieldwork has followed the making of Smart in Milton Keynes and the making of Milton Keynes through Smart via a series of data, policy, labour, citizenship, and visual practices. In stark contrast to the promises of urban transformation based on digital-led integration, what we have encountered in Milton Keynes is a fragile, patchy, and highly variegated assemblage of Smart initiatives each enacting quite different, only partially connected versions of Milton Keynes and its inhabitants. Seeking to take this complex present of Smart seriously, we draw on recent work on urban technologies in Geography and STS to develop a way of thinking about Smart Cities that takes both the constitution of 'Smart' and the social fabric of 'Cities' as by no means all of a piece but instead multiple, tattered, and continually woven and rewoven in particular power-saturated sociotechnical practices and situations. We propose that in doing so we might offer some insights into how the urban is composed in the age of austerity, and to whose benefit.

Datafied spaces: (re)figurating the city as laboratory

Author: Sandra Balbierz (University Eichstätt-Ingolstadt) email
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Short abstract

Re-reading Chicago School's metaphor of the city as laboratory from the background of emerging data-driven technologies it is asked as to how far attention and observance are modified and (re)figurate sociotechnological interactions in city spaces.

Long abstract

How can we conceptualize the (re)figuration of (city) spaces in the age of Big Data? How might new technologies of data storage, analysis and prediction (DSAP) create city spaces and modify our 'being-in' the city? How will interactions between people, things and data be negotiated and organized? With the example of the smart city New Songdo this paper aims to re-thing the metaphor of a city as a 'social laboratory' (Small 1894; Park 1915; 1967) from the background of emerging technologies of DSAP. Experimenting with Chicago School's reading of the USA as a laboratory, 'where the combining possibilities of races will be tested' (Small 1894: 179), it is asked as to how far smart cities are being produced as socio-technological laboratories where attention and observance are modified for means of control and optimization. It is argued that data-driven technologies challenge classical approaches and concepts of Urban Sociology and the Sociology of Space. As Roger Burrows and David Beer posit, most social scientists are 'familiar with the notion of the urban'. What is new and less focussed upon is the notion of informatics as 'hardware and software that have merged telecommunications with computer technology [..].' (Hayles 1999: 313; in Burrows / Beer 2013: 61 f.) Starting from this background, this paper aims to rethink the metaphor of the city as laboratory by developing a theoretical framework of the (re)figuration of city spaces under the technological condition of digitization and datafication, beyond social and technical determinism.

Exploring problem-centred smart / digital urbanism in Australia

Authors: Ralph Horne (RMIT University) email
Lauren Rickards (RMIT University) email
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Short abstract

Deriving a typology for problem-centred digital urbanism set around climate change, equity and accountability, we argue for transitioning to be oriented around actual existing urban problems. Australian examples are introduced in a context of smart/digital urbanism policies and possibilities

Long abstract

What do smart/digital urban logics do to social differences and do they exacerbate urban problems? As a way to interrogate the multiple definitions of the smart city and their social implications, the paper proposes a typology for understanding the multiple meanings, as a starting point for interrogating problem-centred smart/digital urbanism. Drawing upon previous work, we consider three meanings of 'smart' (intelligent, entrepreneurial, and progressive) and three meanings of urban (agglomeration, hub and scale) to create nine possible intersections of smart city logics. We then draw upon examples to illustrate the utility of this heuristic, providing prospective evaluation of the problem-solving power (or not) of selected smart city initiatives.

The problem-centred approach provides a means to identify ideas, plans and projects that (a) may exacerbate rather than address urban problems (e.g. are simply a business idea looking for a market) or (b) address problems in only limited and potentially problematic ways. For example, an eco-smart city obtained at the expense of - or silent on - widening inequality and failing democratic governance is not tenable as a genuinely pluralistic problem-centred smart city. Beyond curating or sorting, it the paper draws attention to the missing elements and how these missing elements arise from the circulation of power in selection processes of technologies, projects and logics of smart/digital urbanism. Problem-centred digital urbanism is a means to situate within actual urban problems, the disruption of relations and social structures and reordering of the city wrought by smart city initiatives.

Transformative visions of IoT: whose visions, whose rights, whose responsibilities?

Authors: Naomi Jacobs (University of Aberdeen) email
Karen Salt (University of Nottingham) email
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Short abstract

Through fieldwork examining community responses to IoT, we explore experiences of multiple social actors and the structural dynamics of digital transformations. We consider whether narratives of empowerment are upheld or whether inequalities may be reinforced, and impacts on privacy and democracy.

Long abstract

The UK, like many parts of the world, is currently experiencing a massive boom in smart city digital led transformations. These range in size from large transformation projects to small scale community led implementations. A common theme among many of these initiatives is empowerment. Laced with articulations of enhanced democracy and openness, many of these same digital projects include rhetoric about increased efficiencies for overworked (often urban) infrastructure, economic benefits for citizens and users, the stimulation and vitalisation of new markets and the positive social impact of digital-led innovations on the community. However it is important to consider how this vision of digital opportunity and enrichment might be experienced by all social actors; not just those involved in leading these initiatives but those impacted, directly and indirectly, within the community. A key question is whether inequalities may be reinforced rather than minimised by these transformative visions. Additional questions remain about whose rights are being enhanced, exploited or empowered and who is responsible when something goes wrong. This talk takes these questions as a starting point and works through them as they emerge within in the Tillydrone community of Aberdeen, where the TrustLens team has been engaged in extensive fieldwork examining community responses to IoT. In listening to and working with the community, we have begun to disentangle the rhetoric of digital transformation in order to highlight the structural dynamics that sit at the heart of these initiatives and the ways that privacy and democracy may be at risk.

Variegated smart urbanism

Author: Anthony Levenda email
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Short abstract

As various groups produce the smart city, each does so in a different way. This paper conceptualizes variegated smart urbanism as a way to think through different values and politics embedded and reproduced by smart urban technologies and systems through a case study of Portland, Oregon.

Long abstract

While the patterning of socio-spatial difference is produced by various forces, the smart city has introduced a myriad of new ways to (re)produce these differences. This paper explores the concept of "variegated smart urbanism" through a case study of Portland, Oregon. Drawing on two years of ethnographic, intervention-oriented research in a city planning office, university laboratory, and tech start-up, I analyze the different conceptualizations and practices of smart urbanism that are projected and produced by each organization. Against the notion of a seamless and integrated system, I find that smart urbanism is rolled out unevenly across urban space, introducing new forms of social differentiation and contributing to the furthering of existing forms of Portland's exclusive green urban aestheticization. I also analyze how different forms of expertise shape various dimensions of smart urbanism, from environmental sensor networks, governance strategies, electric grid design, and smart home technologies, adding to the complexity of the socio-technical production of urban space. Lastly, I comment on the possibilities of such a fractured landscape of smart urbanism for generating more reflexive expert practices and a more genuine democratic shaping of the smart city.

Partial platforms: the everyday life of oligoptic geospatial technologies in the neoliberal city

Authors: Debra Mackinnon (Queen's University) email
David Murakami Wood (Queens University) email
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Short abstract

This paper traces the adoption and use of a smart city management application platform by three downtown Canadian BIAs. We explore the granular, uneven, and overlapping ways these technologies spatially sort and geosurveil the city.

Long abstract

Smart cities technologies are changing how contemporary public-private surveillance unfolds across urban landscapes. These urban platforms have caught the attention of municipal governments, and Business Improvement Areas (BIAs), by promising effective ways to monitor, manage, control, and geosurveil the city (Kitchin, 2014). However, as Shelton, Zook & Wigg (2015) note, the 'actually existing smart city' amounts to 'partial platforms' in everyday practice. Rather than creating wide ranging, centralized, and interoperable control, in practice these sociotechnical surveillance systems are relatively narrow, multiple, and uneven (Latour, 2005; Murakami-Wood & Ball, 2013). This administrative fragmentation is reflected in the way neoliberal cities are governed via multiple layers of variously corporate structure, each with slightly different priorities and histories. This paper explores one such example by following the adoption and use of a smart city management application platform by three downtown Canadian BIAs. Although primarily adopting the application for its marketed use cases (i.e., street ambassador tracking, RFID asset tracking, digital order submissions, 311-integration, custom reports, and heat maps), most have adapted the app to suit the soft policing and boundary setting needs of the area. Drawing on internal reports, interview data, and participant observation, we argue this platform with its geospatial overlays and spatial sorting abilities enables BIAs to play with 'smart governance,' by mildly augmenting and automating urban asset management already carried out by the BIAs. Perhaps at a planetary urban scale these overlapping platforms add up to something, but in terms of everyday urban governance, they add up to very little.

The smart city as conscription device: negotiating the politics of emptiness in Santiago de Chile

Authors: Ignacio Perez (University of Oxford) email
Martin Tironi (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) email
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Short abstract

In this presentation, we describe how the notion of the Smart City in Santiago de Chile is translated, operating as 'conscription device' (Latour & Woolgar, 1986). Then, we analyse how the concept becomes a mechanism for enrolment, managing to create a political agenda without discussing politics

Long abstract

Today, the concept of the "Smart City" has been positioned with singular force in urban discourses a, becoming a label that cities around the world increasingly seek to obtain (Campbell, 2012). Chile is part of this trend, these discourses and projects have taken over the local urban agenda, structuring discussions of how cities should be and mobilizing experts and resources for the application of the doctrines of the smart city (Tironi & Valderrama, 2017).

Some of the questions addressed in this presentation are: How is this techno-intelligent notion of the city is translated to the context of Santiago de Chile? What sorts of interest are mobilized when the different actors speak about smart urbanism? What definitions of the city and citizens are enacted when this concept is operationalised in highly unequal contexts like Chile?

Through the analysis of the "Se Santiago" program, using an ethnographic approach, we describe how the notion of the Smart City is translated, operating as 'conscription device' (Latour & Woolgar, 1986). Specifically, we analyse how the vagueness of the concept of Smart City becomes a mechanism for enrolment or 'conscription device', generating a dialogue between actors with radically different interests and definitions of the city, managing to create a political and urban agenda without discussing politics. Therefore, we seek to show how the translation of the SC in Santiago far from operating under a well-defined program, functions as a strategy of purification to generate consensus, framing diverse stakeholders around the idea of the Smart City.

Enacting social difference through smart city tech: the gathering of groupings through a platform

Authors: Oliver Zanetti (University of Oxford) email
Parvati Raghuram (The Open University) email
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Short abstract

Smart tech is rarely neutral. This paper examines how a new smart technology enacts social difference by gathering city dwellers into groups through queries run on its platform. This differentiation makes a difference, as residents become more or less able to participate in low cost energy markets.

Long abstract

Typically, the promoters of smart city technologies in government and industry position smart as somehow neutral, conferring benefits on city dwellers and tech users without differentiation. However, critical commentaries examining smart argue that the urban technology risks exacerbating inequalities along existing lines of social difference (Madden, 2018) or itself creating new forms of social difference (Rose, 2017). This paper addresses the practices by which that difference is created. It does so by drawing on a comprehensive set of interviews with informants involved in the development of a smart city energy platform which aims to enrol city dwellers in renewable energy installation and energy efficiency measures. The paper explores how that platform works to enact social difference by differentiating between people and assembling them into cohorts based on factors as diverse as the physical characteristics of their homes, their participation in or potential to engage with local community groups, and their representation through locality data. The groupings enacted may be tentative or experimental, able to be assembled and disassembled continuously and with ease simply by running queries on the platform, but those found to be useful - they draw together a market for renewable energy installers, for instance, or they demonstrate a target group for local council energy efficiency interventions - will hold. Through this enactment, the platform becomes an agent in the creation of social differences with the potential for material consequences for city dwellers, enabling a differentiation in the energy market in which some are privileged and others disadvantaged.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.