Rob Cowley, Youri Dayot and Simon Joss will be presenting a paper on "The ‘smart city’ and its publics"

All welcome.


Digitally enabled ‘smart city’ ambitions are increasingly informing policy-making in the UK (and elsewhere), particularly at local authority level. The broader spread of this discourse over the last few years, however, has attracted generally negative attention in the popular media and academic literature. Among other things, the smart city has been accused of tending towards technocratic governance; and questions of democratic legitimacy are raised by the dominance of large tech companies and governmental actors in the alliances formed. Perhaps in conscious response to these criticisms, smart initiatives increasingly adopt the language of citizenship and public engagement.

In response, our research investigates the types of publicness envisaged and enacted through recent UK smart city policy initiatives; and in particular the role of digital urban technologies in potentially shaping and recasting the public in new ways.

Building on public policy theory as well as science and technology studies, we develop the concept of ‘techno-public assemblage’ to analyse the formation of publics in the smart city. Of particular interest here is how issues are made visible and various publics are mobilised through spatially connected socio-technical practices (such as hackathons and dashboards); and what implications this has for the theory and practice of ‘the public’, ‘the public sphere’ and ‘public engagement’.

Empirically, the research is based on a comparative study of smart city policy (formation, implementation, practice) in six UK cities known as leaders in the field: Bristol, Glasgow, Greater London, Manchester, Milton Keynes, and Peterborough.

This project is led by the Westminster team of the international multi-centre research project SMARTECO: Smart eco-cities for a green economy - a comparative study of Europe and China (2015-2018), with funding in the UK provided by ESRC.