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Civic Infrastructure and the Appropriation of the Corporate Smart City

Pages 507-515 | Received 30 Nov 2018, Accepted 19 Sep 2019, Published online: 11 Nov 2019


Concerns have been raised regarding smart city innovations leading to, or consolidating, technocratic urban governance and the tokenization of citizens. Less research, however, has explored how we make sense of ongoing appropriation of the resources, skills, and expertise of corporate smart cities and what this means for future cities. In this article, we examine the summoning of political subjectivity through the practices of retrofitting, repurposing, and reinvigorating. We consider them as civic infrastructure to sensitize the infrastructural acts and conventions that are assembled for exploring inclusive and participatory ways of shaping urban futures. These practices, illustrated by examples in Adelaide, Dublin, and Boston, focus on capabilities not only to write code, access data, or design a prototype but also to devise diverse sociotechnical arrangements and power relations to disobey, question, and dissent from technocratic visions and practices. The article concludes by suggesting further examination of the summoning of political subjectivity from within established institutions to widen dissent and appropriation of the corporate smart city. Key Words: citizen, infrastructure, political subjectivity, smart city, urban future.


Una cierta preocupación ha surgido sobre las innovaciones de la ciudad inteligente, que pueden conducir a la gobernanza tecnocrática urbana y a la tokenización de los ciudadanos, o a consolidarlas. No obstante, menor ha sido la investigación dedicada a explorar el modo como le sacamos sentido a la actual apropiación de los recursos, habilidades y experticia de las ciudades corporativas inteligentes, y qué significa esto para las ciudades futuras. En este artículo examinamos el llamado de la subjetividad política por medio de las prácticas de actualización, reconversión y revitalización. Las consideramos como infraestructura cívica para sensibilizar los actos infraestructurales y las convenciones que se ensamblan para explorar modos incluyentes y participativos para configurar futuros urbanos. Estas prácticas, ilustradas con ejemplos de Adelaida, Dublín y Boston, se enfocan en las habilidades de no solo escribir código, acceder a los datos o diseñar un prototipo, sino también a concebir diversos arreglos sociotécnicos y relaciones de poder para desobedecer, cuestionar y disentir de las visiones y prácticas tecnocráticas. El artículo concluye sugiriendo más investigación del llamado de la subjetividad política desde el interior de instituciones establecidas para ensanchar la disconformidad y la apropiación de la ciudad corporativa inteligente. Palabras clave: ciudad inteligente, ciudadano, futuro urbano, infraestructura, subjetividad política.


We thank the reviewers for their thoughtful comments on this article. The research and subsequent work would not be possible without the encouragement from our colleagues who have contributed to and supported the Programmable City project.

Additional information


The Programmable City project was funded by an ERC Advanced Investigator Award to Rob Kitchin (ERC-2012-AdG-323636-SOFTCITY). Some of the Australian data were gathered for a scoping project funded by Telstra on smart cities in Australia.

Notes on contributors

Sung-Yueh Perng

SUNG-YUEH PERNG is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at Tunghai University, Taichung 407, Taiwan. E-mail: syperng@thu.edu.tw. His research focuses on the incorporation of digital and data-driven innovation into urban everyday life and governance.

Sophia Maalsen

SOPHIA MAALSEN is a Lecturer in the School of Architecture, Design and Planning at The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. E-mail: sophia.maalsen@sydney.edu.au. Her research interests include the intersection of the digital and material across cities, housing, and the everyday.

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