Provenance and Possibility, Thoughts Towards a Scheme for Urban Data

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Document Type

Book Chapter


‘Big data's' boosters present a mythology wherein it is perpetually new, pushing ever forwards towards bigger and better representations of the world. Similarly, the vision of the 'smart city' is inevitably an a historical imaginary of data intense urban planning and coordination. Data sources, actually existing data, appear in the literature as uncritical, preexisting, and decontextualized representations of the world to be exploited in service to a technoutopian urban. The sources of data, its provenance, recede into a technical issue: one in a litany of hurdles to be overcome through austere, computational methodologies. Such technical approaches to provenance efface the intentionality of data creators. They leave out the inscription of meaning that goes into data objects as sociotechnical, emergent indicators at urban scales and instead seats them as objective reality. Using a critical data studies approach, this paper connects and contextualizes the conditions of data's production with its potential uses in the world. Data provenance, the where, how, and from whom data is produced, is intrinsically linked to how it comes to (re)present the world. This exploration serves as the first steps in developing a schema that includes mobile devices, municipal services, and other categories and tie that to the historical ideologies through which these technologies emerged in urban contexts.

Publication Title

Data and the City

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