RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018

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73 Publics In-formation: Re-thinking smart cities, people, and processes (1)
Affiliation Digital Geographies Research Group
Convenor(s) Caspar Menkman (Maynooth University, Ireland)
Aoife Delaney (Maynooth University, Ireland)
Chair(s) Aoife Delaney (Maynooth University, Ireland)
Timetable Wednesday 29 August 2018, Session 3 (14:40 - 16:20)
Room Main Building - Large Chemistry Lecture Theatre
Session abstract Recently academics have taken notice of the limited attention paid to the role of publics in corporate and critical smart city discourses. Despite initial promises of a technologically empowered or 'smart' citizenry, the focus has principally been with the powerful, rational, and universal impacts of smart technologies. While these early insights have proven crucial in framing smart cities, their disregard for scholarly work that insists on technological and social complexity means they need to be amended. Therefore, for this session we invite contributions that explore the emergence of publics as (social) interfaces, associations, and borders are reconstituted with the help of smart solutions.

Areas of potential interest may include, but are not limited to:
•Political representation of publics in technology adoption and agenda-setting;
•Accessibility and use of open-data initiatives by civic initiatives;
•Roles of citizen sensing in decision-making;
•Necessary new digital rights, protections, and responsibilities;
•Emergence of new issue-based networked publics;
•Efforts for community training and digital capacity building;
•Local co-production and repair of technology;
•Prosumption and the re-shuffling of infrastructural relations

Thus, this session is not prescriptive and welcomes scholars interested in data and digital transformations, hackathons, public services, digital inequality and technocratic and algorithmic governance of cities.

Linked Sessions Publics In-formation: Re-thinking smart cities, people, and processes (2)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2018@rgs.org
Communities learning to be more than just smart: on the role of capabilities in energy justice
Caspar Menkman (Maynooth University, Ireland)
This paper combines considerations of justice in the energy industry with roles played by smart citizens and publics in community energy transitions. Energy justice is a relatively young field that closely mirrors the environmental justice literature. However it advances the latter by applying justice considerations to energy industry issues. Recently this literature has made considerable strides incorporating issues with procedures and recognition, attending to the heterogeneous voices and values that are part of the discourse. However up until now limited attention has been given to the capabilities required to participate in, effectively engage with, or voice concerns over transitions. Topics that are pressing as the introduction of smart and micro-generation technologies upset traditional socio-spatial relations and make new demands of citizens affected and part of transitional movements. Based on this gap in the literature, this paper explores two parallel structures advocating citizen participation in electricity infrastructures; the German Mieterstrom concept and the Irish Sustainable Energy Communities. These projects illustrate the pivotal role of played by capabilities in equitable transitions. However as current theories of energy justice follow modern infrastructural divides, they insufficiently capture the social, technical, and spatial realities of community transitions. The primary contribution of this paper is, then, to start theorizing how capabilities should be incorporated as part of energy justice. Additionally this paper adds empirically to the discourse on smart citizens or publics as it accounts for expected and/or required capabilities for informed, effective and technologically aided participation in transitions upsetting traditional socio-spatial relations.
Smart urban nature: digital publics re-coding ecology in Berlin
Timothy Moss (Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany)
Friederike Voigt (Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany)
Sören Becker (Humboldt University, Germany)
Following the deconstruction of corporatist visions of the smart city and the celebration of activist alternatives, there is a need to transcend binary notions of ‘top-down’ versus ‘bottom-up’ and embrace the multifarious real-world manifestations of an increasingly hybridised smart urbanism (Capdevilla and Zarlenga 2015). This paper explores how, within a single city, various digitally networked publics are developing new ways of ‘knowing’ urban nature through ICTs. It begins by asking, provocatively, where ‘nature’ is in the smart city debate. Research on ‘smart environments’ has been highly selective, focussing on those dimensions of the environment conventionally associated with technological solutions – like environmental pollution, energy use and resource efficiency (Caragliu et al. 2011; Gabrys 2014; 2017; Haarstad 2016) – but largely ignoring the realm of urban nature itself. To address this research gap, the paper explores how ‘nature’ is getting mobilised and represented through digital interactions of multiple actors and publics in Berlin and thus bringing urban nature to the digital sphere in the first place. Empirically, it presents an overview of ca. 20 nature-oriented digital projects across the city, in-depth case analysis of two selected projects and how they represent the hybrid character of Berlin’s shifting policies on the smart city. Conceptually, the paper positions itself at the interface between STS and human geography, drawing on notions of urban nature and urban commons to interpret the digitally enabled re-codings of nature in the city.
Ontological Switches of Smart Cities
Christian Nold (University College London, UK)
This paper argues that smart city projects need to be understood as tension zones where multiple ontologies run in parallel and come into conflict with each other. Based on a multi-year ethnographic study of four sensing devices, the paper shows how practices of transhumanism, environmental exposure, behaviour change and activism - came to coexist or replace each other. In turn the devices called forth multiple publics as global networks, democratic or material publics (Marres 2012). The paper shows how specific design choices such as the introduction of a GUI slider functioned as a ’switch’ to enact certain publics and foreclose others. The paper argues that smart cities involve an ontological politics (Mol 1999) that hinges on matters of design, reconfiguration and re-use. This argument suggests that design is creating and foreclosing realities, which extends beyond popular notions such as ‘privacy by design’. As a response, the paper offers guidelines for an ethnographic approach to ontological design that can identify ‘switch’ points within smart city projects with the aim of allowing researchers to make normative interventions to multiply realities.
Much ado about nothing? Crowdsourcing as social innovation for urban sustainability governance in Europe
Chiara Certomà (Ghent University, Belgium)
Filippo Corsini (Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna Pisa, Italy)
Crowdsourcing is generally reputed as one of the chief means for involving citizens in the gathering of data, ideas and preferences in Europe2020-inspired public governance processes. Our research aims at providing a quali-quantitative analysis of how crowdsourcing is understood and pursued in the context of European social innovation strategy. We aim at investigating whether the wide appreciation for crowdsourcing as short way toward greater democratization and participation standards in public decision-making in European academic research and research-oriented projects, does actually correspond to a genuine interest in practice-oriented initiatives at local level. Results show that from the one side we can appreciate a strong interest for on-line participation in public governance when considering the volume of scientific and grey literature in different disciplinary fields and the number of EU-funded projects. Scholarly publications reveal the urban context as the forefront field of experimentation and research, while R&I projects clearly show the prominence of sustainability amongst the other topics. We thus performed a qualitative analysis of non research-oriented projects generally led by city administrations. We found out that crowdsourcing is adopted in addressing a quite wide range of urban sustainability issues, ranging from data gathering to engagement initiatives. In our discussion section, we explore the differences between research-oriented and non research-oriented crowdsourcing processes, suggesting the character of participatory processes that made them suitable for crowdsourcing application. The appreciation of priorities in terms of co-creation and social innovation from real life experiences, and the consideration of whether these are in line with supra-regional lines for action and support for smart, sustainable and inclusive society prefigured by Europe2020 pathway conclude the paper.