Smart citizens and thick data: knowledge politics in a noisy square in Barcelona

Authors: Adrian Smith*, Science Policy Research Unit
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: Thick data, smart cities, citizen science
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: 8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Officially, in moving ‘beyond the smart city’, Barcelona City Council is pioneering policies in data and technology sovereignty: rights and tools enabling citizens to oversee data production, distribution and use. This people-centred vision for high-technology attracts international attention and involves partnerships with other cities. Yet a citizen-initiative that uses smart technologies to monitor and act on noise in one Barcelona neighbourhood reveals the complicated politics, knowledge-based and otherwise, involved in making urban technology sovereign. My paper analyses this case and uses it to reflect upon the way data becomes thick with contested social meanings (in the anthropological sense of Clifford Geertz). Whilst smart technologies appeared initially in this case to help empower people, and helped mobilise an agenda for action on a long-neglected issue; closer study finds it was really older-fashioned community development processes that put the technology to work for people, and which will be further needed as institutional power continues to restrict action on the noise nuisance. In responding to citizen demands with yet more monitoring, this time officially approved, the council effectively contains knowledge politics within the realm of data, rather than moving knowledge production to the area that citizens want, which concerns the negotiation and resolution of social conflicts over convivial uses of the neighbourhood. Ultimately, going beyond the smart city is found to demand something its technocratic efficiency is supposed to make redundant: investment in old-fashioned, street-level skills in community development.

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