Selling Smartness: Corporate Narratives and the Smart City as a Sociotechnical Imaginary

Science, Technology, and Human Values 44 (3):540-563 (2019)
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Abstract

This article argues for engaging with the smart city as a sociotechnical imaginary. By conducting a close reading of primary source material produced by the companies IBM and Cisco over a decade of work on smart urbanism, we argue that the smart city imaginary is premised in a particular narrative about urban crises and technological salvation. This narrative serves three main purposes: it fits different ideas and initiatives into a coherent view of smart urbanism, it sells and disseminates this version of smartness, and it crowds out alternative visions and corresponding arrangements of smart urbanism. Furthermore, we argue that IBM and Cisco construct smart urbanism as both a reactionary and visionary force, plotting a model of the near future, but one that largely reflects and reinforces existing sociopolitical systems. We conclude by suggesting that breaking IBM’s and Cisco’s discursive dominance over the smart city imaginary requires us to reimagine what smart urbanism means and create counter-narratives that open up space for alternative values, designs, and models.

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