“Smart” Discourses, the Limits of Representation, and New Regimes of Spatial Data

Dalton, Craig and Wilmott, Clancy and Fraser, Emma and Thatcher, Jim (2019) “Smart” Discourses, the Limits of Representation, and New Regimes of Spatial Data. Annals of the American Association of Geographers. ISSN 2469-4460

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As “smart” urbanism becomes more influential, spaces and places are increasingly represented through numeric and categorical data that has been gathered by sensors, devices and people. Such systems purportedly provide access to always visible, measurable and knowable spaces, facilitating ever-more rational management and planning. Smart city spaces are thus governed through the algorithmic administration and categorisation of difference, and structured through particular discourses of smartness, both of which shape the production of space and place on a local and general level. Valorization of data and its analysis naturalizes constructions of space, place, and individual that elide the political and surveillant forms of techno-cractic governance on which they are built. This article argues that it is through processes of measurement, calculation, and classification that “smart” emerges along distinct axes of power/knowledge. Using examples drawn from the British Home Office’s repurposing of charity outreach maps for homeless population deportation and the more recent EU EXIT document checking application for European citizens and family members living in the UK, we demonstrate the significance of Gunnar Olsson’s thought for understanding the ideological and material power of smartness via his work on the very limits of representation. The discussion further opens a bridge towards a more relational consideration of the construction of space, place, and individual through the thinking of Doreen Massey.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Annals of the American Association of Geographers
Additional Information:
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Annals of the American Association of Geographers on 4/11/2019, available online: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/24694452.2019.1665493
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07 Nov 2019 11:55
Last Modified:
31 Dec 2023 01:08