Social Theory for the Smart City and the Spectrum of Control

From P2P Foundation
Jump to navigation Jump to search

* Article: The spectrum of control: A social theory of the smart city. by Jathan Sadowski and Frank Pasquale. First Monday, Volume 20, Number 7 - 6 July 2015

URL = [1]


"There is a certain allure to the idea that cities allow a person to both feel at home and like a stranger in the same place. That one can know the streets and shops, avenues and alleys, while also going days without being recognized. But as elites fill cities with “smart” technologies — turning them into platforms for the “Internet of Things” (IoT): sensors and computation embedded within physical objects that then connect, communicate, and/or transmit information with or between each other through the Internet — there is little escape from a seamless web of surveillance and power. This paper will outline a social theory of the “smart city” by developing our Deleuzian concept of the “spectrum of control.” We present two illustrative examples: biometric surveillance as a form of monitoring, and automated policing as a particularly brutal and exacting form of manipulation. We conclude by offering normative guidelines for governance of the pervasive surveillance and control mechanisms that constitute an emerging critical infrastructure of the “smart city.”


From the Introduction

Jathan Sadowski and Frank Pasquale:

"There is a certain allure to the idea that cities allow a person to both feel at home and like a stranger in the same place. That one can know the streets and shops, avenues and alleys, while also going days without being recognized. But as government and corporate actors, often in close partnership with each other, fill cities with “smart” [1] technologies — turning them into platforms for the “Internet of Things” (IoT): sensors and computation embedded within physical objects that then connect, communicate, and/or transmit information with or between each other through the Internet — there is little escape from a seamless web of surveillance (cf., Hollands, 2008; Townsend, 2014; Neirotti, et al., 2014). Soon, for example, shoppers and viewers will be as “known” by a store or gallery as they are able to know it (Arnsdorf, 2010). Facial recognition software, or smartphone emanations, can project your identity, likely spending habits, and reputation: shoplifter or big spender, “Mortgage Woes” or “Boomer Barons” (to use actual categories from marketers) (Castle Press, 2010).

“Big data” is the new currency of commerce, but like money, some have far better terms of access to it than others. In finance, the average borrower must turn over detailed, personal records to receive a loan; the bank is under no parallel obligation, though, to explain its own internal decision-making in nearly as much detail (Pasquale, 2015). The same dynamics are emerging in the IoT: powerful entities centripetally attracting more data from their users, but denying access to users and regulators, even when very troubling data uses and breaches occur. It no longer makes sense to think of “the Internet” as a thing that one accesses via a computer. Not when the city itself is reimagined and reconstructed as a platform for and node within networked information-communication technologies (ICT).

Wired’s flagship article on the IoT asks, “Have you ever lost an object in your house and dreamed that you could just type a search for it, as you would for a wayward document on your hard drive?” (Wasik, 2013). Well you can now, we are assured, thanks to a startup called StickNFind Technologies that sells cheap, small, “sticker” sensors. Lose a child at the mall? “Smart fashion” RFID tags will keep him or her plugged into the network and tracked at all times. And why stop with kids when making sensor-laden sartorial choices? Before long your car, house, appliances, and every other part of your environment will be engaging in a constant stream of networked communication with each other. Taken at the urban scale, the city becomes a cocoon of connectivity that engulfs us — or, alternatively, it becomes a web that ensnares us — as smart technologies are integrated into our everyday lives. These technologies are billed as modes of finding, of wayfaring. They are technologies of search (when we apply them) and technologies of reputation (when used to evaluate us) (Pasquale, 2015). They map, categorize, and classify — and what could be more innocuous than mere information?

Calculating the costs and benefits of the innovation is a Sisyphean, and deeply ideological, task. Who knows what sinister or spectacular applications may emerge? Scenario analysis and planning could be a valuable alternative to cost-benefit studies (Verchick, 2010): these methods acknowledge the incommensurability of the gains in convenience, and losses of privacy, portended by the IoT. But corporate and government discourse on IoT has tended to marginalize the most important negative scenario analyses, downplaying them as paranoid projections. Technocrats distort policy evaluations of pervasive surveillance and control in urban environments. Moreover, their normative tools of evaluation, focusing on consumer and citizen “consent” to surveillance, are manipulable enough to embrace even the most disturbing technologies of control — such as drone-driven crowd control directed at protesters, or automobile loan technology that disables cars mere minutes after a payment is late — as expressions of democratic will and market rationality.

Technocrats’ convenient blindness to the most worrisome aspects of the “smart city” invites a more balanced theoretical response. We propose one such response that lays out the characteristics and consequences of a dominant socio-political logic that courses throughout and ties together many of the various practices and ideologies related to “smart cities.” We begin by providing a contextual overview of the “smart city,” building from the burgeoning analytical work on the topic. This leads into a critical introduction to the ideology of the “smart city,” focusing on the stated aspirations of some of its most notable corporate, governmental, and academic exponents. We then offer a Deleuzian alternative, outlining a social theory of the “smart city” in service to capital as a form of control (rather than emancipation) of its subject-citizens. Next, we present two illustrative examples along the resulting spectrum of control: biometric surveillance as a form of monitoring, and automated policing as a particularly brutal and exacting form of manipulation. Our penultimate section makes explicit the stakes of the deep integration of person–machine — city in our “post-digital-dualist era” (Jurgenson, 2012). And we end by offering some normative guidelines for governance of the pervasive surveillance and control mechanisms that constitute the emerging critical infrastructure of the “smart city.” (

Smart cities in societies of control

Jathan Sadowski and Frank Pasquale:

"What will a social theory of the smart city demand? As opposed to the ideology of advocates, social theory is a “systematic, historically informed and empirically oriented theory seeking to explain the nature of ‘the social,’” where the social “can be taken to mean the general range of recurring forms, or patterned features, of interactions and relationships between people” [20]. To take on ideal-types of interactions in urban environments, critical patterns include relationships of allocation/extraction, oppression/emancipation, and recognition/misrecognition (Fraser, 1995). Close examination of the phenomenology of being a surveilled subject, a data subject, reveals the vulnerability of each resident of the smart city to extraction, oppression, and misrecognition.

In many ways, Foucault’s concept of biopower has explanatory fit. One form of biopower is, he writes, “centered on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility, its integration into systems of efficient and economic controls, all this was ensured by the procedures of power that characterized the disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the human body” [21]. In contrast to the modes of sovereign power that exercised the right “to take life or let live” [22], the modes of disciplinary biopower exercise the ability to administer and manage bodies and populations. The smart city not only operates on people in this way — for instance, viewing citizens as analog-cum-digital information nodes, or “citizen sensors” [23] — but it also reimagines and reconstructs the city, in itself, as a machine, which can and must be administered and managed. One theorist, inspired by Foucault’s concept of “governmentality,” has deemed this type of disciplining “smartmentality” (Vanolo, 2014).

While the concept of biopower is certainly illuminating, it doesn’t give us the full picture. We can reveal more about the smart city by applying a different social theory — one that explicitly sought to succeed Foucault’s disciplinary societies, just as Foucault’s model succeeded the “societies of sovereignty” — namely, Gilles Deleuze’s (1995) notion of “societies of control.” If the sovereign power was, as Foucault points out, symbolized by the sword, and disciplinary biopower was represented by industrial machines, then control corresponds to computer networks (Deleuze, 1995). Now, of course, the existence of one mode of power does not abolish the others. Rather, it is a question of which one is the dominant operational logic. And, when applied to ICT, especially the networked technologies of smart cities, Deleuze’s framework makes clear the common logics underlying these practices and ideologies. We will provide a preliminary application of this framework to demonstrate its merit as a social theory of the smart city.

A Deleuzian “society of control” has at least three crucial components — dividuals, rhizomes, and passwords — which come together to form a continuously acting logic.

When one person observes another, a basic perceptual apparatus of sight and vision demands at least some minimally holistic assessment. It is hard to register what a walking person is wearing, for example, without also noticing gender, if the person limps or strides, is tall or short, among the hundreds of other bits of tacit knowledge that may be conveyed by an appearance. Monitored by sensors, by contrast, city dwellers are becoming less individuals than “dividuals”: entities ready to be divided into any number of pieces, with specific factors separated, scrutinized, and surveilled. What the person does becomes less important than the consequences calculated in response to emanated data streams. For example: the metadata from a phone call may be far more fateful than the talking which we usually take to be its purpose.

With digital technologies, the individual is atomized, blown apart into streams of data fed into processors. And as these sensors gain immediate influence over physical objects like doors, fences, and automobiles, there is little to no chance of the communicative dialogue that is a hallmark of human interaction. Instead, these relations are at their core strategic, in the Habermasian sense, rather than communicative (Habermas, 1984). Consequences will result not from the “unforced force of the better argument,” or even coaxing and cajoling, but rather, by force alone, as programmed by a set of managers and software developers far removed in time and space from particular implementations of programmed rules [24].

For example, facial recognition software enrolls a person’s face, and by extension the person it is associated with, into a network, whether the person wants to be enrolled or not. Hackers now claim they can even use photographs to identify fingerprints as well (Santus, 2014), a potentially massive boon for law enforcement. The health wristband paints a picture of a self by collecting and analyzing somatic data. The location-tracking sensor registers geospatial coordinates. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cell-All initiative senses “deadly” chemicals. The RFID reader only cares about the chip in your wallet. The biometric lock is only concerned with your fingerprint or irises. The list of ways that people are dividualized goes on. It is identity via synecdoche, where a factor — which factor depends on the system — becomes representative of the whole and becomes all that matters.

The array of underlying technical systems, which are often hidden from sight and mind, can be conceptualized as what Deleuze calls a “rhizome” — like the roots and shoots of a persistent, massive set of plants, it seems to pop up everywhere. Rhizomes are assemblages of concepts, relationships, materials, and actions. They have no distinct boundaries; rather, they are fluid fields, always acting, pulsating power, emanating from multiple directions with varying intensities. The city’s networked, ‘smart’ technological apparatus can simultaneously be: sensing chemicals in the atmosphere; tracking bodies as they move through space; surveilling the types of faces on the street; sending police to remove unwanted people; moving traffic along the roads; and more.

Even as a swarm of disconnected, “dumb” machines, this emerging rhizomatic apparatus of monitoring and control can be intimidating. No one wants to be on the wrong side of its algorithms. As urban technological networks grow vaster and more interconnected, secondary uses of data barely imaginable at the time “users” begin participating in the IoT may well become commonplace (Hoofnagle, 2003). Data gathers and brokers — from corporations to governments — will find a plethora of uses for the information. Consider the biometric lock: Surely the times, places, and identities of who is granted access will be categorized and logged, but what might be even more interesting to authorities is the data for who is denied access.

And people-qua-dividuals have freedom only insofar as all their “passwords” — the products of dividualization that mark access or restriction, allowing one to move freely through or be stymied by the rhizomatic system — are in working order. (Do you wish to enter through a keypad lock? Your PIN is the password. Do you wish to purchase something? Your credit card is the password.) Life is filled with these passwords. Yet, at any moment a password could be rejected — rightly or wrongly, with or without your knowledge — and the amount of control the array of underlying mechanisms have over you become bluntly apparent. Deleuze asked us to imagine “a city where one would be able to leave one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighborhood, thanks to one’s (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours” [25]. As infrastructure decays and the rhizomatic tendrils extend further, city dwellers increasingly feel the Kafkaesque frustration such a scenario entails.

Technology critics often portray these unexpected developments in technological control as a kind of Frankenstein’s monster or sorcerer’s apprentice, one that “we” have unleashed via thoughtless adoption of technology [26]. Social theorists must push the question of causation and agency further, identifying the powerful actors who remain above the fray of dividualization, weaving a web of forces that increasingly constrain the time and space of city dwellers (Krieger, 1994). Masses may be consenting to be dividualized, but only a few wrote those terms and enforce them (Rothkopf, 2009).

Through Mirowski’s detailed analysis of the cause and context of the financial crisis, we can see how these ‘smart’ initiatives plug into the ideologies and tactics of neoliberal political economy: “Technocratic elites could intently maintain the fiction that ‘the people’ had their say, while reconfiguring government functions in a neoliberal direction. These elite saboteurs would bring about the neoliberal market society far more completely and efficaciously than waiting for the fickle public to come around to their beliefs” [27]. The distinction between control and consent is important to several recent initiatives toward the creation of smart cities. Pervasive interlinking of surveillance/sensor arrays, computational processing, and virtual databases into the physical structure of cities is only legitimate if citizens can, both politically and in individual encounters, can be said to have “consented” to it. But when that consent is remote or indirect, its force, validity, and scope should be vitiated. Internet “terms of service” are the ideal-type of desiccated, hollow, pro forma “consent” that is better termed obeisance, acquiescence, or learned helplessness. Thus the overall pattern of relationships in the smart city results in a seamless “spectrum of control,” with meritorious or merely creepy technologies directly imbricated with deeply disturbing ones.

The idea of a “spectrum of control” is more than a turn of phrase [28]. It serves as a symbolic visualization of an interpretation of a text — here, the text is the city, considered simultaneously as a kind of aesthetic object and software program. As Charles Taylor has stated, in canonical work on interpretive social science, interpretation “is an attempt to make clear, to make sense of an object of study” that is in “some way confused, incomplete, cloudy, seeming contradictory — in one way or another, unclear” [29]. Just as skilled commentators can interpret literature, judicial opinions, and works of art, we should take the city’s increasingly technologized systems of governance as expressive texts in need of interpretation.

Both the rhetoric of the “smart city,” and the actual city itself, are texts and text-analogues. They are cloudy and confused now because so much theoretical effort has gone into separating out wheat and chaff, to minimize “coercion” and maximize opportunities for “consent.” This well-meaning, but ultimately futile, normative agenda contributes to confusion and contradiction because the IoT and all-pervasive surveillance are building less a smart city than a cyborg city (Gandy, 2005) — urban places where the stakes of access to certain prosthetic extensions of the self are ever rising. In such cyborg cities concepts like consent vs. coercion, control vs. autonomy do not exist as binaries — but rather they exist on a continuum. Shoehorning the daily experience of the smart city dweller into such binary choices will only further falsify the lived experience of urbanites. Economic pressure toward a “full disclosure future” [30] makes opting out a luxury good (Angwin, 2014).

By theorizing in terms of a spectrum of control we can draw connections between technologies that were before thought of as discrete and independent. The innocuous is enfolded with the menacing. Any significant technology of the smart city becomes a tool to be repurposed for later, often-unforeseeable goals. Claude Lévi-Strauss has compared human thought processes to the work of the handyman, or bricoleur, who fixes problems as best he can with whatever tools or materials are lying at hand (Lévi-Strauss, 1966). A similar process of bricolage will embed technologies of the smart city into solutions proposed for problems large and small — and will, in turn, help define what is viewed as a problem properly solved by the polity." (

The soft power of biometric surveillance

At one end of the spectrum of control are the technologies that enact their power in subtle ways. They are increasingly ubiquitous and become subsumed into the background of everyday life due to their ‘invisibility’ (Star, 1999). That is, they can be functionally invisible because people no longer notice their relationships and interactions with the technologies and/or physically invisible because they are intangible or hidden.

Political philosopher Giorgio Agamben [31] explains this particularly curious mode as an “operation of power that does not immediately affect what humans can do — their potentiality — but rather their ‘impotentiality,’ that is, what they cannot do, or better, can not do.” Through this way of operating, power is not limiting my capacity to do an action — in the conventional way of constraining subjects — but instead is making it very difficult for me to not do an action. For example, when few people had cellphones it was easy to not own or use one, but now that almost everybody does — and increasingly more parts of our life our tied to the constant communication and platform capabilities afforded by the device — it’s nearly impossible not to also conduct your life via a cell/smartphone (Peppet, 2011; Morozov, 2014). The same can be said of automobiles: nothing forces any given person to buy an automobile, but when infrastructure is constructed with private vehicles assumed, and when there are scant other alternatives, it becomes difficult to not make the choice.

Urban surveillance technologies — especially as they are implemented as part of massive, networked systems — anchor the subtle end of the spectrum of control. Consider the closed-circuit television (CCTV) arrays that already blanket the streets and buildings of major cities around the world. CCTV is now emerging as a kind of “fifth utility” within cities (alongside gas, electricity, water, and telecommunications). “Once CCTV systems are installed, their logic is inevitably expansionary. Economies of scale are very marked — once a system is built and monitoring personnel are employed, it makes sense to cover larger and larger areas” [32]. In the ‘smart city,’ such surveillance systems rush down the path towards ubiquity; they become subsumed into the background of everyday life: always present, tirelessly watching, but rarely noticed.

CCTV is a flexible technology, with the potential for added layers of sophisticated software incorporated into the hardware — such as biometrics that are linked to the in-depth, personal information held and managed by data brokers. The proliferation of surveillance systems as part of ‘smart’ initiatives, which are then enhanced by advanced analytics, changes the very political economy of what it means to be a city dweller.

Let’s consider further the example of biometrics, which identify, measure, and collect a biological trait or group of traits [33]. There are a wide variety of types of existing biometrics, with more in development. Some of the most common focus on physical traits: faces, fingerprints, irises, retinas and DNA. Others focus on behavioral traits: voice, signature, gait (how a person walks) and keystrokes (speed and timing between key presses). In practice, biometric technologies employ a standard process across different types. A sample of the biological trait is collected using a sensor of some kind, such as a camera for faces or a telephone for voices. Through the use of an algorithm that extracts information from the biometric sample, the trait is then converted into a digital representation called a “template,” which can be stored in a database. The larger the database, the more templates there are to verify or identify subjects. The key component, though, is the algorithm used to construct the template. This is the feature that distinguishes one biometric recognition system as ‘better’ than others on markers like: can the algorithm quickly extract biometric information? Can it do so in a variety of environmental circumstances? Can it create a template that is accurate?

The potential role of biometrics in the information economy is huge — especially for the massive data-brokerage industry. During a 2013 U.S. Senate hearing, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, then Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said: “In 2012, the data broker industry generated $156 billion in revenues. That’s more than twice the size of the entire intelligence budget of the United States Government — all generated by the effort to learn about, and sell, the details about our private lives.” [34] Biometrics present new ways to convert data into profit, a figurative strip-mining bodies (and their actions) so that ever more actionable information can be extracted from them. This analogy captures the degree of intrusiveness that biometrics have when they hone in on particular biological traits and pull them out of the context of the rest of the body, person, and environment.

The finer grain, personalized data provided through biometrics would be like gold in the data brokers’ servers, enabling companies to significantly fine-tune the way they target potential customers and providing government agencies with additional ways to oversee populations. “Despite consumer data broker companies’ clear links with credit rating agencies, revenues numbering in the billions, exemption from state regulations to protect consumers from identity theft, and documented data breaches, the average citizen has likely never heard of these powerful corporations” [35]. Since these brokers collate data and construct profiles through whatever means available, by adding biometric algorithms and databases to the mix, these brokers, and crucially their clients, accumulate troves of data to the point that they may know more intimate details about persons (including income, debt, illness, criminal records, and drugs taken) than their families do. Some high-end stores already use facial recognition software to alert clerks and salespeople that a VIP or a celebrity is in the store (Salinas, 2013). With large enough databases, what’s to prevent stores from identifying even non-VIP customers who walk in the door?

The acceleration of profiling and personalization is a natural consequence of big data business strategies. Firms at the center of the big data economy claim that their data troves reverse the common economic law of diminishing marginal returns. The more data a firm has, the more its existing store is worth, since contextualization of profiles enables ever greater power of sorting, control, price discrimination — and even blackmail.

These implications, among others, are consequences of the ways biometrics allow — and encourage — more intensive commodification of physical bodies. “Biometrics break bodies down into their component parts in ways that allow them to be marketed more easily in the transnational marketplace ... The flimsy material body is rendered rugged as biometric technologies make the body replicable, transmittable, and segmentable” [36]. We’ve heard of the data economy, but how about the face economy, or iris economy or gait economy? There are entire corporate sectors eager to mine that data and put it to use in any number of ways: data brokers construct in-depth consumer profiles replete with biometric templates; salespeople and store security use biometric emanations to pull up your reputation from the database; and your identity is pinned to your location, which is better tracked as you move through the streets, public squares and shops. Insurance companies, for instance, are hungry for the somatic data provided by personal health and fitness monitoring devices (Sadowski, 2014a). Imagine what they, and others, could do with the knowledge and power provided by diverse types of biometrics.

Thus, biometrics present a way to not only dividualize people at minute scales, but also provide the means to intensify commodification — via strip-mining the newly available sources of data — and control — via biopolitical management — of people, all while the ‘smart city’ constructs a conducive platform for these activities.

The technological systems installed within cities to make them more connected, efficient, secure, and smart don’t exist in a vacuum. They “absorb and reproduce the dominant cultural values of the contemporary political economy” [37]. At the subtle end of the spectrum of control, the systems act on us in ways that are functionally and/or physically invisible; few even know about data brokers, intrusive surveillance, and the ways we become incorporated into the data flows of capital. And even then, we “consent” by default because the options to not do things that pull us into the logics of these systems — such as not using digital platforms, not using smartphones, not going to stores and streets without a mask, not living in a populated area — can hardly be considered real choices for the vast majority of citizens."

From the conclusion: Taking back control

"We expect that our analyses of politics in the smart city and our re-interpretation of its sociotechnical assemblages as a cyborg city should have normative import. Within the context of the “spectrum of control” we can derive support for the principle of “the right to the city.” This right originated from Henri Lefebvre as a means for people to take back the urban social space by challenging the abuses of capital through a re-imagination of the duties and prerogatives of citizenship (Purcell, 2002). In the context of globalized neoliberal and technocratic ideologies, such a right then takes on new importance — and serves as a rallying call for challenging the technologies of control that proliferate and engulf us.

David Harvey, in his landmark paper on the subject, forcefully explains what the right to the city entails:

The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is ... one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights. [46] This type of plasticity is not simply a matter of ensuring a living wage, or some bare subsistence standard of living, for all in the “smart city” — however crucial such measures are. Rather, it is a critical aspect of human freedom, if the term is to have enduring meaning in an environment where corporate and government actors are honing ever more sophisticated means of monitoring, control, and manipulation (Unger, 2004).

Julie Cohen has sketched a broad outline of further normative responses to the rise of smart technologies and networked intelligences. Resisting the big data logic, that more data is always better, she pursues “semantic discontinuity” between different knowledge gathering and parsing systems (Cohen, 2012). The pursuit of complete interoperability, legibility, and access between data systems must be closely interrogated, and often blocked.

The grim results of overreach are already clear. For example, vertical integration of municipal, state, and federal law enforcement data, plus horizontal joinder of intelligence and investigative systems of military and police forces, in the United States (via the fusion center apparatus), resulted in a series of snafus and civil liberties violations with little if any discernable impact on public safety (Citron and Pasquale, 2011). Early, clumsy efforts at health data integration in the U.K. outraged patients when authorities decided to sell the data to insurers. Each of these episodes should serve as a cautionary tale for the would-be architects of smart cities: without consistent citizen consultation and serious penalties for misuse of data, their apparatus of omniveillance could easily do more harm than good.

The smart city’s legitimacy also depends on its even-handedness. There are curious gaps in this apparatus of control. Somehow, certain corporate lawbreakers are rarely, if ever, monitored, let alone punished. By contrast, the average person is dividualized by the rhizomatic apparatus because the dividual can be better analyzed, penetrated, and controlled. As Jonathan Crary’s (2013) 24/7: Late capitalism and the ends of sleep shows, the military logic of eternal vigilance is gradually filtering into capitalist assumptions about work and subsistence wages. If the shift towards smart cities provides a technocratic rational for governments to dutifully double down on entrepreneurial forms of governance (Harvey, 1989), they will deserve resistance. Merely serving as “political-technological assemblages designed to naturalize and justify new assets for the circulation of capital and its rationalities within cities” [47], the sensors of the smart city will amount to little more than a technologized re-imposition of old chains.

Commentators have already observed the resurrection of early capitalist piecework in the guise of a “gig economy.” Planners should acknowledge that slavery was not a deviation from capitalist imperatives, but one variation of them, and its lesser forms are always available to aggressive government-corporate leaders seeking to maximize extractive potential (Baptist, 2014). In other words, as Cory Doctorow has provocatively argued, “Our networks have given the edge to the elites, and unless we seize the means of information, we are headed for a long age of [ICT]-powered feudalism, where property is the exclusive domain of the super-rich, where your surveillance-supercharged Internet of Things treats you as a tenant-farmer of your life, subject to a license agreement instead of a constitution” (Doctorow, 2015).

Fair distribution of the value arising out of the new data streams is critical. The work of being watched (Andrejevic, 2004) is not fairly compensated (Scholz, 2013). Acting as human information nodes in the urban network is becoming another civic and economic duty that smart city dwellers are expected to perform. As Jennifer Gabrys explains, “Monitoring and managing data in order to feed back information into urban systems are practices that become constitutive of citizenship. Citizenship transforms into citizen sensing, embodied through practices undertaken in response to (and communication with) computational environments and technologies” [48]. To the extent corporations derive commercial value from this data, there must be provisions for equitable benefit sharing (Lanier, 2011). Otherwise, persons as dividuals will merely multiply the power of others to exploit rhizomatic connections, by providing ever more data flowing on networks.

At present, smart city boosters are far too prone to assume that a benevolent intelligence animates the networks of sensors and control mechanisms they plan to install. The “core values, orientations, usually unspoken (even unconscious) assumptions and beliefs about how political and economic system should be structured and the roles that various actors can and should play,” are part of what Jonathan Swarts calls a “neoliberal political-economic imaginary” [49]. The predictable result is a failure of imagination: a normative agenda either mired in slight refinements in existing patterns of objects and data, or free-floating utopianism about governance as a machine that would go of itself. We have sought to provide the critical foundation needed to articulate the smart city’s emancipatory potential for all its residents, rather than the elite, (mostly) men behind the curtain of its sensory apparatus. It is against that democratic egalitarian goal — of fair benefit and burden sharing — that alleged “smartenings” of the city must be measured. "

More Information