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

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As “smart” urbanism becomes more influential, spaces and places are increasingly represented through numeric and categorical data that have 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 categorization 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 technocractic 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 and 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 United Kingdom, 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 toward a more relational consideration of the construction of space, place, and individual through the thinking of Doreen Massey.

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Annals of the American Association of Geographers

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