RC21 Sensing the City: Second Call for Abstracts

The IUR is organizing two sessions at the upcoming RC21 Conference Sensing the City: Place, People, Power that will (hopefully) take place in Antwerp from 14 to 16 July 2021.

A second call for papers has been opened and we’re welcoming abstracts through the conference website no later than 4 December 2020. (Abstracts that are not submitted through the conference website will not be accepted).

Smart city backlash: resistances, insistences and divergences (Session 22)

Session organizers: Carina Listerborn and Lorena Melgaço

Stimulated by the challenges the smart city poses on imagining the future (rather than imagining the future of the smart city), we invite artists, researchers, practitioners to engage in a dialogue around views, practices, approaches and critical perspective regarding smart urbanism.

During the last two decades, Smarter Cities Campaigns have been promoted by tech companies, nation states and supranational organizations like EU. In 2009 IBM set their mission to create smart cities as a “comprehensive approach to helping cities run more efficiently, save money and resources, and improve the quality of life for citizens” (Better World 2016). Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, a more hesitant approach to the digital solutions has emerged, with Amnesty international (2019) also warning about the threats of harvesting of data by giants like Facebook and Google to human rights, for example.

Beyond data gathering, the critique of smart cities interrogates the growing interest of tech companies in the urban. When Torontonians organized themselves in the #BlockSidewalk campaign, the spokeswomen Bianca Wylie argued that “The biggest issue with the Sidewalk Toronto [sister company to Google] deal is the threat it poses to democracy. This is about power and control writ large — corporate capture of governance.” Similar critiques and protests have been raised in Berlin “Against Google, Displacement and Tech Dominance”. Datta and Odendaal (2019) urge us to understand how the smart city produces and engages power, unveiling structural and social violence that underlies urban transformation worldwide.

For this session, we take inspiration from Flusser (198X) and Lefebvre (1989), who already in the 1980’s exposed the biases of technological development in the alienation of the citizens. While Lefebvre argued that advances in information technology grant the citizen the right to consume, rather than to produce information; Flusser argued that creativity and labour, necessary for envisioning the future, are now on the hands of technicians, who focus on the ‘how’, rather than on the ‘what fors’ or ‘whys’ technology should be produced. For him, every technology we produce has an inevitable backlash which dimensions need to be considered: “when designing the intelligent tools for the future, we will have to know how we want them to beat back upon us, and this implies that we will have to know how we want to change the future”, and this requires, the philosopher argues, some sort of vision of what this future should be.

Nevertheless, to even glimpse the future, such a vision needs to be built through the creative and ample exercise of dissensus, as a political way to challenge such heteronomous form of thinking and producing space. Different forms of tactics, with different levels of formal organisation and geographical and social scopes may be used in order to achieve that. This session invites papers that address the following tactics and beyond from different geographical locations, socio-spatial contexts and with different scales:

  • Resistances: Organised groups who are actively disengaged from decision processes through technocratic decisions are openly resisting the less than transparent ways smart strategies are being implemented in cities around the world such as San Francisco, Queens, San Jose, Rennes, Guadalajara, Stockholm.
  • Insistences: Other less confrontational approaches are also in the making, ones that reflect what Castelfranchi and Fernandes (2015) call insistence practices, by using tactics that aim at a rupture on the political order from the inside, by insisting and existing as a concrete social action and assuming that technology is not extrinsic from it. As such, they may invent, from within the system, actions that may reformat it.
  • Divergences: Lastly, either from a resistant or insistent position, technologies may swerve toward unintended goals, through disruptive actions, such as hacking or repurposing, as temporary responses to threats to citizenship in the context of the smart.

Racial capitalism, everyday life and the city (session 41)

Session organizers:  Claudia Fonseca Alfaro and Defne Kadioğlu 

Challenging the classical Marxist focus on class and political economy, scholars within Ethnic Studies (e.g. the work of Barrera, Marable or Almaguer) have been trying to disentangle the relationship between racism and capitalism for decades. Led by a new generation of researchers rediscovering racial capitalism—a term coined by Cedric Robinson in 1983 within the Black Radical Tradition—there is a renewed interest in the deployment of the concept from different perspectives. For example, reflecting on the levels of environmental destruction that the planet is currently facing, Saldanha (2019) argues that because of the colonial origins of capitalism, the Anthropocene is in fact a racial regime. Pulido (2016) explores the relationship between environmental racism and racial capitalism. Focusing on urban agriculture, McClintock (2018) argues it is a racialized practice that works both as a tool of Othering but also as a tool of resistance to capital accumulation. Chakravartty and Ferreira Da Silva (2012), on the other hand, explore the “racial logic of global financial capitalism” in a Special Issue. Bhattacharyya (2018) explores how processes of racialization have been put to use in the service of capitalism. Scholars have also addressed the nexus of racial capitalism to private property, land value, spatial planning and the ongoing accumulation of wealth (cf. Bhandar, 2018; Toews, 2018; Dorries et al. 2019). 

There is, however, less work explicitly studying the connections between racial capitalism and urban theory. To begin with, neoclassical urban theory has been accused of having a blind spot in studying the role of race and racism (Kobayashi, 2014). While there are authors that have explored the linkages between capitalism and the urban (e.g. predominantly the work of Henri Lefebvre and David Harvey) and scholarly work on the nexus between race and urban inequality produced through capitalist relationships (e.g. Wacquant 2008; Gibbons, 2016; Hackworth, 2018), the intellectual work to further explore the race-capitalism-urban matrix remains to be done. 

Attempting to bridge this knowledge gap and guided by the conference’s theme, we seek to explore the relationship between racial capitalism and the urban. We invite contributions that address theoretical discussions, provide rich empirical examples or challenge the usefulness of racial capitalism in studying urban processes. Possible questions include but are not limited to: 

  • What is the role of racial capitalism in producing urban space (e.g. patterns of physical and social segregation, investment and disinvestment, urban planning)?
  • What is the role of materiality (e.g. infrastructure, public and commercial space, housing) in reproducing racial capitalism in the city? 
  • What is the role of racial capitalism in mediating access to public urban space (e.g. access to recreational spaces, nature, public transport)?
  • How does racial capitalism shape everyday experiences of urban life (including at the intersection of gender and class)? 
  • What other conceptual tools are there to explore the race-capitalism-urban matrix (i.e. other strands of theory—feminist, postcolonial/decolonial, queer—that while not explicitly using the concept “racial capitalism” can nevertheless contribute to its theorization)?
  • What is the conceptual usefulness of racial capitalism, in other words, what is racial about racial capitalism?