Wednesday, 5 February 2020 at 1:30 pm – Wednesday, 5 February 2020 at 3:00 pm
Smart Cities’ Environmental Dreams and Their Dirty Material Politics
Part of the Politics and International Relations Public Lecture Series
Date: Wednesday 5th February 2020
Time: 1.30pm – 3pm
Location: GM 3.42, Geoffrey Manton Building, Rosamond St West, Manchester M15 6LL
Tickets: Free – Available on Eventbrite
Media has many stories about smart cities’ bright promises, and these celebratory narratives are echoed by the cities’ own websites. Although ecology is usually not the primary focus of smart cities’ self-promotion, their websites usually tell the story of how they would ultimately make the environment
better. They would streamline the collection of waste by using smart bins; use smartphone-operated bike-
rental schemes; control traffic via digital dashboards; run paper-free egovernment services; or even help asthma-suffering children by digitally monitoring and communicating the level of air pollution at playgrounds.
However, despite the overwhelming rhetoric of being environmental saviours, smart cities pose multiple ecological threats, most of which are invisibilised, because they take place elsewhere: the ever-growing extraction of resources needed to produce the actual devices: from a range of smart sensors to the smartphones and computers themselves; the toxicity of their production process and of the e-waste left behind after their short lives, often made disposable by design; and the rapidly increasing energy demands of data farms, needed to sustain every air pollution sensor, every city dashboard, every smart bus stop, every ‘smart’ communication network.
At the heart of my talk, thus, lies a troubling, yet crucial question: how to reconcile the usefulness of digital technologies and, more specifically, their rapid and expansive adoption into environmentally driven initiatives and sustainability projects such as smart cities, with the extensive environmental damages brought on by the digitization itself?
Dr Adi Kuntsman is Senior Lecturer in Digital Politics at the Politics department of Manchester Metropolitan University. Their past work explored Internet cultures in Russia, Eastern Europe and Russian- speaking diasporas; digital emotions, digital memory and digital militarism; as well as sexual historiographies of Soviet GULAGs, and contemporary LGBT politics. Kuntsman’s current work focuses on selfies between political activism and biometric governance; the politics of ‘opting out’ of digital datafication; and environmental damages of digital technologies.