“Intelligent” or Just? Pathways and partnerships for ethical smart city development in India and Africa

Within the critical scholarship on Indian smart cities, the relationship between technology, governmentality and ethics is yet to be fully theorised, representing an area ripe for deeper intellectual inquiry. The proposed working paper will build on this emerging area of scholarship by teasing out how digital rationalities (e.g. datafication, technological solutionism, dataveillance) and digital technologies (e.g. apps, sensors, e-portals, biometric and facial recognition technologies, urban dashboards and other ICTs) are being assembled and networked to generate highly sophisticated, spatially diffuse, ubiquitous, invisible, pluralist - and at times ethically controversial -  modes of power and governmentality in the Indian smart city. In addition to unpacking how smart city technologies and data may act to monitor, discipline or control citizens, it will investigate whether and how these digital rationalities and digital technologies are also being unlocked to serve citizens, particularly those who are socially marginalised. Given that several African cities are experiencing comparable levels of urbanisation, this study aims to bring the Indian smart city experience into dialogue with the African one. Using New Delhi and Kigali as comparator case studies, it will explore how Indian and African city planners, policymakers and bureaucrats are currently imagining, designing and operationalising their respective digital technologies and digital rationalities to both control and serve citizens. It also hopes to identify possible pathways for the development of “intelligent” cities that do not discipline, control or merely serve citizens, but empower and emancipate them in politically transformative ways.

Name of researcher:
Supriya Roychoudhury


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