Excerpted from Jathan Sadowski and Frank Pasquale:
“What will a social theory of the smart city demand? As opposed to the ideology of advocates, social theory is a “systematic, historically informed and empirically oriented theory seeking to explain the nature of ‘the social,’” where the social “can be taken to mean the general range of recurring forms, or patterned features, of interactions and relationships between people” . To take on ideal-types of interactions in urban environments, critical patterns include relationships of allocation/extraction, oppression/emancipation, and recognition/misrecognition (Fraser, 1995). Close examination of the phenomenology of being a surveilled subject, a data subject, reveals the vulnerability of each resident of the smart city to extraction, oppression, and misrecognition.
In many ways, Foucault’s concept of biopower has explanatory fit. One form of biopower is, he writes, “centered on the body as a machine: its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase of its usefulness and its docility, its integration into systems of efficient and economic controls, all this was ensured by the procedures of power that characterized the disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the human body” . In contrast to the modes of sovereign power that exercised the right “to take life or let live” , the modes of disciplinary biopower exercise the ability to administer and manage bodies and populations. The smart city not only operates on people in this way — for instance, viewing citizens as analog-cum-digital information nodes, or “citizen sensors”  — but it also reimagines and reconstructs the city, in itself, as a machine, which can and must be administered and managed. One theorist, inspired by Foucault’s concept of “governmentality,” has deemed this type of disciplining “smartmentality” (Vanolo, 2014).
While the concept of biopower is certainly illuminating, it doesn’t give us the full picture. We can reveal more about the smart city by applying a different social theory — one that explicitly sought to succeed Foucault’s disciplinary societies, just as Foucault’s model succeeded the “societies of sovereignty” — namely, Gilles Deleuze’s (1995) notion of “societies of control.” If the sovereign power was, as Foucault points out, symbolized by the sword, and disciplinary biopower was represented by industrial machines, then control corresponds to computer networks (Deleuze, 1995). Now, of course, the existence of one mode of power does not abolish the others. Rather, it is a question of which one is the dominant operational logic. And, when applied to ICT, especially the networked technologies of smart cities, Deleuze’s framework makes clear the common logics underlying these practices and ideologies. We will provide a preliminary application of this framework to demonstrate its merit as a social theory of the smart city.
A Deleuzian “society of control” has at least three crucial components — dividuals, rhizomes, and passwords — which come together to form a continuously acting logic.
When one person observes another, a basic perceptual apparatus of sight and vision demands at least some minimally holistic assessment. It is hard to register what a walking person is wearing, for example, without also noticing gender, if the person limps or strides, is tall or short, among the hundreds of other bits of tacit knowledge that may be conveyed by an appearance. Monitored by sensors, by contrast, city dwellers are becoming less individuals than “dividuals”: entities ready to be divided into any number of pieces, with specific factors separated, scrutinized, and surveilled. What the person does becomes less important than the consequences calculated in response to emanated data streams. For example: the metadata from a phone call may be far more fateful than the talking which we usually take to be its purpose.
With digital technologies, the individual is atomized, blown apart into streams of data fed into processors. And as these sensors gain immediate influence over physical objects like doors, fences, and automobiles, there is little to no chance of the communicative dialogue that is a hallmark of human interaction. Instead, these relations are at their core strategic, in the Habermasian sense, rather than communicative (Habermas, 1984). Consequences will result not from the “unforced force of the better argument,” or even coaxing and cajoling, but rather, by force alone, as programmed by a set of managers and software developers far removed in time and space from particular implementations of programmed rules .
For example, facial recognition software enrolls a person’s face, and by extension the person it is associated with, into a network, whether the person wants to be enrolled or not. Hackers now claim they can even use photographs to identify fingerprints as well (Santus, 2014), a potentially massive boon for law enforcement. The health wristband paints a picture of a self by collecting and analyzing somatic data. The location-tracking sensor registers geospatial coordinates. The Department of Homeland Security’s Cell-All initiative senses “deadly” chemicals. The RFID reader only cares about the chip in your wallet. The biometric lock is only concerned with your fingerprint or irises. The list of ways that people are dividualized goes on. It is identity via synecdoche, where a factor — which factor depends on the system — becomes representative of the whole and becomes all that matters.
The array of underlying technical systems, which are often hidden from sight and mind, can be conceptualized as what Deleuze calls a “rhizome” — like the roots and shoots of a persistent, massive set of plants, it seems to pop up everywhere. Rhizomes are assemblages of concepts, relationships, materials, and actions. They have no distinct boundaries; rather, they are fluid fields, always acting, pulsating power, emanating from multiple directions with varying intensities. The city’s networked, ‘smart’ technological apparatus can simultaneously be: sensing chemicals in the atmosphere; tracking bodies as they move through space; surveilling the types of faces on the street; sending police to remove unwanted people; moving traffic along the roads; and more.
Even as a swarm of disconnected, “dumb” machines, this emerging rhizomatic apparatus of monitoring and control can be intimidating. No one wants to be on the wrong side of its algorithms. As urban technological networks grow vaster and more interconnected, secondary uses of data barely imaginable at the time “users” begin participating in the IoT may well become commonplace (Hoofnagle, 2003). Data gathers and brokers — from corporations to governments — will find a plethora of uses for the information. Consider the biometric lock: Surely the times, places, and identities of who is granted access will be categorized and logged, but what might be even more interesting to authorities is the data for who is denied access.
And people-qua-dividuals have freedom only insofar as all their “passwords” — the products of dividualization that mark access or restriction, allowing one to move freely through or be stymied by the rhizomatic system — are in working order. (Do you wish to enter through a keypad lock? Your PIN is the password. Do you wish to purchase something? Your credit card is the password.) Life is filled with these passwords. Yet, at any moment a password could be rejected — rightly or wrongly, with or without your knowledge — and the amount of control the array of underlying mechanisms have over you become bluntly apparent. Deleuze asked us to imagine “a city where one would be able to leave one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighborhood, thanks to one’s (dividual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours” . As infrastructure decays and the rhizomatic tendrils extend further, city dwellers increasingly feel the Kafkaesque frustration such a scenario entails.
Technology critics often portray these unexpected developments in technological control as a kind of Frankenstein’s monster or sorcerer’s apprentice, one that “we” have unleashed via thoughtless adoption of technology . Social theorists must push the question of causation and agency further, identifying the powerful actors who remain above the fray of dividualization, weaving a web of forces that increasingly constrain the time and space of city dwellers (Krieger, 1994). Masses may be consenting to be dividualized, but only a few wrote those terms and enforce them (Rothkopf, 2009).
Through Mirowski’s detailed analysis of the cause and context of the financial crisis, we can see how these ‘smart’ initiatives plug into the ideologies and tactics of neoliberal political economy: “Technocratic elites could intently maintain the fiction that ‘the people’ had their say, while reconfiguring government functions in a neoliberal direction. These elite saboteurs would bring about the neoliberal market society far more completely and efficaciously than waiting for the fickle public to come around to their beliefs” . The distinction between control and consent is important to several recent initiatives toward the creation of smart cities. Pervasive interlinking of surveillance/sensor arrays, computational processing, and virtual databases into the physical structure of cities is only legitimate if citizens can, both politically and in individual encounters, can be said to have “consented” to it. But when that consent is remote or indirect, its force, validity, and scope should be vitiated. Internet “terms of service” are the ideal-type of desiccated, hollow, pro forma “consent” that is better termed obeisance, acquiescence, or learned helplessness. Thus the overall pattern of relationships in the smart city results in a seamless “spectrum of control,” with meritorious or merely creepy technologies directly imbricated with deeply disturbing ones.
The idea of a “spectrum of control” is more than a turn of phrase . It serves as a symbolic visualization of an interpretation of a text — here, the text is the city, considered simultaneously as a kind of aesthetic object and software program. As Charles Taylor has stated, in canonical work on interpretive social science, interpretation “is an attempt to make clear, to make sense of an object of study” that is in “some way confused, incomplete, cloudy, seeming contradictory — in one way or another, unclear” . Just as skilled commentators can interpret literature, judicial opinions, and works of art, we should take the city’s increasingly technologized systems of governance as expressive texts in need of interpretation.
Both the rhetoric of the “smart city,” and the actual city itself, are texts and text-analogues. They are cloudy and confused now because so much theoretical effort has gone into separating out wheat and chaff, to minimize “coercion” and maximize opportunities for “consent.” This well-meaning, but ultimately futile, normative agenda contributes to confusion and contradiction because the IoT and all-pervasive surveillance are building less a smart city than a cyborg city (Gandy, 2005) — urban places where the stakes of access to certain prosthetic extensions of the self are ever rising. In such cyborg cities concepts like consent vs. coercion, control vs. autonomy do not exist as binaries — but rather they exist on a continuum. Shoehorning the daily experience of the smart city dweller into such binary choices will only further falsify the lived experience of urbanites. Economic pressure toward a “full disclosure future”  makes opting out a luxury good (Angwin, 2014).
By theorizing in terms of a spectrum of control we can draw connections between technologies that were before thought of as discrete and independent. The innocuous is enfolded with the menacing. Any significant technology of the smart city becomes a tool to be repurposed for later, often-unforeseeable goals. Claude Lévi-Strauss has compared human thought processes to the work of the handyman, or bricoleur, who fixes problems as best he can with whatever tools or materials are lying at hand (Lévi-Strauss, 1966). A similar process of bricolage will embed technologies of the smart city into solutions proposed for problems large and small — and will, in turn, help define what is viewed as a problem properly solved by the polity.”