Competing Visions of the Smart City: Space, Power, and the Subject

Authors: Byron Miller*, University of Calgary, Harris Breslow*, American University of Sharjah
Topics: Urban Geography, Social Theory, Social Geography
Keywords: smart city, governance, communication, rationalities, right to the city, mobility
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon C1, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The “smart city” is widely associated with data-driven decision-making. We create a typology of smart city processes according to three dimensions.

Space: The smart city represents an inversion of conventional relationships of space, movement and power. The use of enclosures in order to discipline movement and contain the subject has given way to cities in which a digital apparatus of mobility and flow establishes motion as a strategic principle: normalize movement, set subjects in motion and control them as circulatory units as opposed to disciplined subjects of enclosures who learn to behave.

Power: The smart city’s app-driven facilitation of mobilities and many other services via the smartphone elicits questions about app-based collection and use of digital data: does the smart city’s organization and acceleration of movement and the collection of personal data represent a new spectrum of control and governance from a distance, or a more open and participatory city? Is it governed by instrumental and strategic rationalities, or by communicative-democratic rationalities? Does smartness enable the creation of more inclusive and integrated cities, or even more splintered forms of urbanism?

Subjectivity: The production of subjectivity is a materio-semiotic process that is always in motion, but this process is always contained. How do questions of mobility in the smart city relate to the production of subjectivity? Will the smart city entrain neoliberal subjects who view services and data collection as transactional and economic, or will it enable alternative subjectivities that seek validation in areas other than the economic?

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