4S Buenos Aires: Opening up the urban interface: The smart city and other experimental forms of ‘infrastructural politics’

Opening up the urban interface: The smart city and other experimental forms of ‘infrastructural politics’


Martin Tironi, Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation, Mines ParisTech

Tomás Sánchez Criado, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Francesca Musiani, Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation, Mines ParisTech


‘Smart city’ is becoming a fashionable concept in urban design (Picon, 2014), designating cities governed through the pervasive use of digital devices. In line with these prospects, many contemporary cities around the world are engaging in an experimental deployment of smart devices (Marres, 2012; Karvonen & van Heuer, in press). They ask experts and citizens to either become avid interpreters of sensors’ data or engage in urban automated governance on a variety of aspects, including air quality, urban hygiene, traffic lights and roads maintenance, mobility and public transportation or urban accessibility. Thus, they contribute to the articulation of cyborg citizens (Gandy, 2005; Sheller & Urry, 2006) or citizens as sensors (Goodchild, 2007).


However, beyond these top-down institutional and industrial-led projects, many citizens are also organizing into grassroots collectives seeking to ‘open up the urban interface’ in different ways. These are activist-led projects, permeated by a hacker ethos, targeting the intervention/transformation of a wide variety of urban infrastructures, articulating free-culture-like formats of public space design and use (Corsín, in press; Musiani, 2013; Van Oost et al., 2009). We believe such an ‘opening’ might bring to the fore a new ‘infrastructural politics’ (Denis & Pontille, 2013; Domínguez Rubio & Fogué, 2013). This allows scholars to counter the disembodied versions of the smart city project, and to rethink the very notion of ‘script’ considering the constant and ongoing work of intervening and maintaining scenarios and their alleged predispositions (Sánchez Criado et al., in press; Tironi, in press).


This session invites empirical work reflecting on the different ways in which the urban interface is being ‘opened up’ for scrutiny through these different experimental projects. It seeks to understand and theorise the different ways in which these projects are developing, intervening and countering the smart city project – and the definition of smartness itself.


mail: martintironi@gmail.com



Corsín, A. (in press). The Right to Infrastructure: A Prototype of Open Source Urbanism. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. Retrieved from http://www.prototyping.es/uncategorized/the-right-to-infrastructure

Denis, J. & Pontille, D. (2013). Material Ordering and the Care of Things. CSI Working Papers Series nº 34. Retrieved from http://www.csi.ensmp.fr/working-papers/WP/WP_CSI_034.pdf

Domínguez Rubio, F., & Fogué, U. (2013). Technifying Public Space and Publicizing Infrastructures: Exploring New Urban Political Ecologies through the Square of General Vara del Rey. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 37(3), 1035-1052.

Gandy, M. (2005). Cyborg urbanization: complexity and monstrosity in the contemporary city. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 29(1): 26-49.

Goodchild, M. F. (2007). Citizens as sensors: the world of volunteered geography. GeoJournal, 69(4), 211–221.

Karvonen, A. & Van Heur, B. (in press). Urban Laboratories: Experiments in Reworking Cities. International

Journal of Urban and Regional Research

Marres, N. (2012). Material Participation: Technology, the Environment and Everyday Publics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Musiani, F. (2013). Nains sans géants. Architecture décentralisée et services internet. Paris: Presses des Mines.

Picon, A. (2014). Smart Cities. Théorie et critique d’un idéal auto-réalisateur. Paris: Edition B2.

Sánchez Criado, T.; López, D.; Roberts, C. and Domènech, M. (in press). Installing telecare, installing users: Felicity conditions for the instauration of usership. Science, Technology and Human Values.

Sheller, M. & Urry, J. (2006). The new mobilities paradigm. Environment and Planning A, 38(2): 207-226.

Tironi, M. (in press) Faire circuler des velos et des personnes. L’écologie urbaine et maintenance du programme Vélib’ de Paris. Revue d’Anthropologie des connaissances.

Van Oost, E., Verhaegh, S., & Oudshoorn, N. (2009). From innovation community to community innovation user-initiated innovation in wireless Leiden. Science, Technology & Human Values, 34(2), 182-205.


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