* Article: The spectrum of control: A social theory of the smart city. by Jathan Sadowski and Frank Pasquale. First Monday, Volume 20, Number 7 – 6 July 2015
From the Abstract:
“There is a certain allure to the idea that cities allow a person to both feel at home and like a stranger in the same place. That one can know the streets and shops, avenues and alleys, while also going days without being recognized. But as elites fill cities with “smart” technologies — turning them into platforms for the “Internet of Things” (IoT): sensors and computation embedded within physical objects that then connect, communicate, and/or transmit information with or between each other through the Internet — there is little escape from a seamless web of surveillance and power. This paper will outline a social theory of the “smart city” by developing our Deleuzian concept of the “spectrum of control.” We present two illustrative examples: biometric surveillance as a form of monitoring, and automated policing as a particularly brutal and exacting form of manipulation. We conclude by offering normative guidelines for governance of the pervasive surveillance and control mechanisms that constitute an emerging critical infrastructure of the “smart city.”
Excerpted from the Introduction, by Jathan Sadowski and Frank Pasquale:
“There is a certain allure to the idea that cities allow a person to both feel at home and like a stranger in the same place. That one can know the streets and shops, avenues and alleys, while also going days without being recognized. But as government and corporate actors, often in close partnership with each other, fill cities with “smart”  technologies — turning them into platforms for the “Internet of Things” (IoT): sensors and computation embedded within physical objects that then connect, communicate, and/or transmit information with or between each other through the Internet — there is little escape from a seamless web of surveillance (cf., Hollands, 2008; Townsend, 2014; Neirotti, et al., 2014). Soon, for example, shoppers and viewers will be as “known” by a store or gallery as they are able to know it (Arnsdorf, 2010). Facial recognition software, or smartphone emanations, can project your identity, likely spending habits, and reputation: shoplifter or big spender, “Mortgage Woes” or “Boomer Barons” (to use actual categories from marketers) (Castle Press, 2010).
“Big data” is the new currency of commerce, but like money, some have far better terms of access to it than others. In finance, the average borrower must turn over detailed, personal records to receive a loan; the bank is under no parallel obligation, though, to explain its own internal decision-making in nearly as much detail (Pasquale, 2015). The same dynamics are emerging in the IoT: powerful entities centripetally attracting more data from their users, but denying access to users and regulators, even when very troubling data uses and breaches occur. It no longer makes sense to think of “the Internet” as a thing that one accesses via a computer. Not when the city itself is reimagined and reconstructed as a platform for and node within networked information-communication technologies (ICT).
Wired’s flagship article on the IoT asks, “Have you ever lost an object in your house and dreamed that you could just type a search for it, as you would for a wayward document on your hard drive?” (Wasik, 2013). Well you can now, we are assured, thanks to a startup called StickNFind Technologies that sells cheap, small, “sticker” sensors. Lose a child at the mall? “Smart fashion” RFID tags will keep him or her plugged into the network and tracked at all times. And why stop with kids when making sensor-laden sartorial choices? Before long your car, house, appliances, and every other part of your environment will be engaging in a constant stream of networked communication with each other. Taken at the urban scale, the city becomes a cocoon of connectivity that engulfs us — or, alternatively, it becomes a web that ensnares us — as smart technologies are integrated into our everyday lives. These technologies are billed as modes of finding, of wayfaring. They are technologies of search (when we apply them) and technologies of reputation (when used to evaluate us) (Pasquale, 2015). They map, categorize, and classify — and what could be more innocuous than mere information?
Calculating the costs and benefits of the innovation is a Sisyphean, and deeply ideological, task. Who knows what sinister or spectacular applications may emerge? Scenario analysis and planning could be a valuable alternative to cost-benefit studies (Verchick, 2010): these methods acknowledge the incommensurability of the gains in convenience, and losses of privacy, portended by the IoT. But corporate and government discourse on IoT has tended to marginalize the most important negative scenario analyses, downplaying them as paranoid projections. Technocrats distort policy evaluations of pervasive surveillance and control in urban environments. Moreover, their normative tools of evaluation, focusing on consumer and citizen “consent” to surveillance, are manipulable enough to embrace even the most disturbing technologies of control — such as drone-driven crowd control directed at protesters, or automobile loan technology that disables cars mere minutes after a payment is late — as expressions of democratic will and market rationality.
Technocrats’ convenient blindness to the most worrisome aspects of the “smart city” invites a more balanced theoretical response. We propose one such response that lays out the characteristics and consequences of a dominant socio-political logic that courses throughout and ties together many of the various practices and ideologies related to “smart cities.” We begin by providing a contextual overview of the “smart city,” building from the burgeoning analytical work on the topic. This leads into a critical introduction to the ideology of the “smart city,” focusing on the stated aspirations of some of its most notable corporate, governmental, and academic exponents. We then offer a Deleuzian alternative, outlining a social theory of the “smart city” in service to capital as a form of control (rather than emancipation) of its subject-citizens. Next, we present two illustrative examples along the resulting spectrum of control: biometric surveillance as a form of monitoring, and automated policing as a particularly brutal and exacting form of manipulation. Our penultimate section makes explicit the stakes of the deep integration of person–machine — city in our “post-digital-dualist era” (Jurgenson, 2012). And we end by offering some normative guidelines for governance of the pervasive surveillance and control mechanisms that constitute the emerging critical infrastructure of the “smart city.”
From the conclusion: Taking back control
“We expect that our analyses of politics in the smart city and our re-interpretation of its sociotechnical assemblages as a cyborg city should have normative import. Within the context of the “spectrum of control” we can derive support for the principle of “the right to the city.” This right originated from Henri Lefebvre as a means for people to take back the urban social space by challenging the abuses of capital through a re-imagination of the duties and prerogatives of citizenship (Purcell, 2002). In the context of globalized neoliberal and technocratic ideologies, such a right then takes on new importance — and serves as a rallying call for challenging the technologies of control that proliferate and engulf us.
David Harvey, in his landmark paper on the subject, forcefully explains what the right to the city entails:
The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is … one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.  This type of plasticity is not simply a matter of ensuring a living wage, or some bare subsistence standard of living, for all in the “smart city” — however crucial such measures are. Rather, it is a critical aspect of human freedom, if the term is to have enduring meaning in an environment where corporate and government actors are honing ever more sophisticated means of monitoring, control, and manipulation (Unger, 2004).
Julie Cohen has sketched a broad outline of further normative responses to the rise of smart technologies and networked intelligences. Resisting the big data logic, that more data is always better, she pursues “semantic discontinuity” between different knowledge gathering and parsing systems (Cohen, 2012). The pursuit of complete interoperability, legibility, and access between data systems must be closely interrogated, and often blocked.
The grim results of overreach are already clear. For example, vertical integration of municipal, state, and federal law enforcement data, plus horizontal joinder of intelligence and investigative systems of military and police forces, in the United States (via the fusion center apparatus), resulted in a series of snafus and civil liberties violations with little if any discernable impact on public safety (Citron and Pasquale, 2011). Early, clumsy efforts at health data integration in the U.K. outraged patients when authorities decided to sell the data to insurers. Each of these episodes should serve as a cautionary tale for the would-be architects of smart cities: without consistent citizen consultation and serious penalties for misuse of data, their apparatus of omniveillance could easily do more harm than good.
The smart city’s legitimacy also depends on its even-handedness. There are curious gaps in this apparatus of control. Somehow, certain corporate lawbreakers are rarely, if ever, monitored, let alone punished. By contrast, the average person is dividualized by the rhizomatic apparatus because the dividual can be better analyzed, penetrated, and controlled. As Jonathan Crary’s (2013) 24/7: Late capitalism and the ends of sleep shows, the military logic of eternal vigilance is gradually filtering into capitalist assumptions about work and subsistence wages. If the shift towards smart cities provides a technocratic rational for governments to dutifully double down on entrepreneurial forms of governance (Harvey, 1989), they will deserve resistance. Merely serving as “political-technological assemblages designed to naturalize and justify new assets for the circulation of capital and its rationalities within cities” , the sensors of the smart city will amount to little more than a technologized re-imposition of old chains.
Commentators have already observed the resurrection of early capitalist piecework in the guise of a “gig economy.” Planners should acknowledge that slavery was not a deviation from capitalist imperatives, but one variation of them, and its lesser forms are always available to aggressive government-corporate leaders seeking to maximize extractive potential (Baptist, 2014). In other words, as Cory Doctorow has provocatively argued, “Our networks have given the edge to the elites, and unless we seize the means of information, we are headed for a long age of [ICT]-powered feudalism, where property is the exclusive domain of the super-rich, where your surveillance-supercharged Internet of Things treats you as a tenant-farmer of your life, subject to a license agreement instead of a constitution” (Doctorow, 2015).
Fair distribution of the value arising out of the new data streams is critical. The work of being watched (Andrejevic, 2004) is not fairly compensated (Scholz, 2013). Acting as human information nodes in the urban network is becoming another civic and economic duty that smart city dwellers are expected to perform. As Jennifer Gabrys explains, “Monitoring and managing data in order to feed back information into urban systems are practices that become constitutive of citizenship. Citizenship transforms into citizen sensing, embodied through practices undertaken in response to (and communication with) computational environments and technologies” . To the extent corporations derive commercial value from this data, there must be provisions for equitable benefit sharing (Lanier, 2011). Otherwise, persons as dividuals will merely multiply the power of others to exploit rhizomatic connections, by providing ever more data flowing on networks.
At present, smart city boosters are far too prone to assume that a benevolent intelligence animates the networks of sensors and control mechanisms they plan to install. The “core values, orientations, usually unspoken (even unconscious) assumptions and beliefs about how political and economic system should be structured and the roles that various actors can and should play,” are part of what Jonathan Swarts calls a “neoliberal political-economic imaginary” . The predictable result is a failure of imagination: a normative agenda either mired in slight refinements in existing patterns of objects and data, or free-floating utopianism about governance as a machine that would go of itself. We have sought to provide the critical foundation needed to articulate the smart city’s emancipatory potential for all its residents, rather than the elite, (mostly) men behind the curtain of its sensory apparatus. It is against that democratic egalitarian goal — of fair benefit and burden sharing — that alleged “smartenings” of the city must be measured. “