Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Gabrys, J.
Programming environments: Environmentality and citizen sensing in the smart city
(2014) Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 32 (1), pp. 30-48.

A new wave of smart-city 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? In this paper I discuss 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. I do this by working through an early and formative smart-city design proposal, the Connected Sustainable Cities (CSC) project, developed by MIT and Cisco within the Connected Urban Development initiative between 2007 and 2008. Revisiting and reworking Foucault’s notion of environmentality in the context of the CSC smart-city design proposal, I advance an approach to environmentality that deals not with the production of environmental subjects, but rather with 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, I consider how practices and operations of citizenship emerge that are a critical part of the imaginings of smart and sustainable cities. This reversioning 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.

Author Keywords
Biopolitics 2.0; Citizen sensing; Environmentality; Programmed city; Smart city; Sustainable city

DOI: 10.1068/d16812

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