Breakdown in the Smart City: Exploring Workarounds with Urban-sensing Practices and Technologies

Houston, Lara; Gabrys, Jennifer and Pritchard, Helen. 2019. Breakdown in the Smart City: Exploring Workarounds with Urban-sensing Practices and Technologies. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 44(5), pp. 843-870. ISSN 0162-2439 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Smart cities are now an established area of technological development and theoretical inquiry. Research on smart cities spans from investigations into its technological infrastructures and design scenarios, to critiques of its proposals for citizenship and sustainability. This article builds on this growing field, while at the same time accounting for expanded urban-sensing practices that take hold through citizen-sensing technologies. Detailing practice-based and participatory research that developed urban-sensing technologies for use in Southeast London, this article considers how the smart city as a large-scale and monolithic version of urban systems breaks down in practice to reveal much different concretizations of sensors, cities, and people. By working through the specific instances where sensor technologies required inventive workarounds to be setup and continue to operate, as well as moments of breakdown and maintenance where sensors required fixes or adjustments, this article argues that urban sensing can produce much different encounters with urban technologies through lived experiences. Rather than propose a “grassroots” approach to the smart city, however, this article instead suggests that the smart city as a figure for urban development be contested and even surpassed by attending to workarounds that account more fully for digital urban practices and technologies as they are formed and situated within urban projects and community initiatives.

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Additional Information:

The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement n. 313347, “Citizen Sensing and Environmental Practice: Assessing Participatory Engagements with Environments through Sensor Technologies.”


workarounds, breakdown, smart city, urban sensing, citizen sensing, sensing practices

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Computing > Embodied AudioVisual Interaction Group (EAVI)


26 April 2019Accepted
26 May 2019Published Online
1 September 2019Published

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Date Deposited:

09 Oct 2019 13:35

Last Modified:

09 Jun 2021 14:50

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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