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This paper critically analyses the concept of the ‘smart city’, focusing on uncovering the formation of a Foucauldian smart city ‘discourse’. Smart city developments and policies might be seen to support new ways of imagining, organising and managing the city and its flows. Alternatively, it might be argued that they seek to impress a new moral order on cities by introducing specific technical parameters to distinguish between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ city. The ‘smart city' discourse reflects knowledge/power and may be characterised as a powerful tool for the production of techno-centric rhetoric and narrative where urban and societal problems are rendered docile and amenable subjects to technology solutions. The paper is based on a series of ethnographic interviews with smart city experts and uses a Foucauldian analytical approach to offer a powerful and critical alternative perspective to enrich smart cities future thinking.
What can a Foucauldian approach offer us in terms of developing an understanding of the ‘smart city’? A Foucauldian approach like all theories, as sets of propositions and/or concepts are, ideally, ways of describing, explaining and sometimes even predicting aspects of the world.
Halverson (2002) elaborates on what theories ‘do’ for a discipline or a field3 ; especially how a theory should have four essential attributes and most importantly how these attributes could make the knowledge from one field accessible and available across disciplines and fields. I intend to conclude this paper by adopting these attributions to justify the Foucauldian approach I have followed. The first power or attribution Halverson calls ‘descriptive power’, which refers to a conceptual framework that helps us make sense of and describe the world. She notes how this can include both a description of the context and a critique of technology in that context. The Foucauldian discursive formation helped us draw out both the context – how the smart city discourse from absorbing features of other urban imaginary came into existence. Furthermore, how this nature of smart city discourse made it hard to pin down a universal definition and how it made possible for many technologies, disciplines and topics to rub shoulder with the smart city.