Programming environments: environmentality and citizen sensing in the smart city

Gabrys, Jennifer. 2014. Programming environments: environmentality and citizen sensing in the smart city. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 32(1), pp. 30-48. ISSN 0263-7758 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

A new wave of smart cities projects is underway that proposes to deploy sensor-based ubiquitous computing across urban infrastructures and mobile devices to achieve greater sustainability. But in what ways do these smart and sustainable cities give rise to distinct material-political arrangements and practices that potentially delimit urban “citizenship” to a series of actions focused on monitoring and managing data? And what are the implications of computationally organized distributions of environmental governance that are programmed for distinct functionalities, and are managed by corporate and state actors that engage with cities as datasets to be manipulated? Working through an early and formative smart cities design proposal, the Connected Sustainable Cities (CSC) project, developed by MIT and Cisco within the Connected Urban Development initiative from 2007 to 2008, this paper discusses the ways in which smart city proposals might be understood through processes of environmentality, or the distribution of governance within and through environments and environmental technologies. Revisiting and reworking Foucault’s notion of environmentality in the context of the CSC smart cities design proposal, this paper advances an approach to environmentality that deals not with the production of environmental subjects, but rather attends to the specific spatial-material distribution and relationality of power through environments, technologies and ways of life. By updating and advancing environmentality through a discussion of computational urbanisms, this paper considers how practices and operations of citizenship emerge that are a critical part of the imaginings of smart and sustainable cities. This re-versioning of environmentality through the smart city recasts who or what counts as a “citizen,” and attends to the ways in which citizenship is articulated environmentally through the distribution and feedback of monitoring and urban data practices, rather than through governable subjects or populations.

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Smart city, sustainable city, environmentality, citizen sensing, biopolitics 2.0, programmed city

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11 February 2014Published

Event Location:

Seattle, United States


Funding bodyFunder IDGrant Number
European Research CouncilUNSPECIFIED

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Date Deposited:

09 Jun 2011 15:37

Last Modified:

02 Mar 2023 11:06

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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