Authoritarianism and the transparent smart city

Authored by: Federico Caprotti

The Routledge Companion to Urban Imaginaries

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138058880
eBook ISBN: 9781315163956
Adobe ISBN:


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The smart city is often marketed and described as being predicated on flows of data and networks of information that make individual urban citizens “visible” and “transparent” through technological interfaces like the smartphone. This chapter takes as its starting point the urban imaginary produced by Soviet émigré Yevgeny Zamyatin, who prefigured the “transparent” smart city in his 1921 novel We, the first book to be banned in the Soviet Union. This is contrasted to more contemporary notions of the smart city as presented in A Day Made of Glass, a 2011 short movie about smart glass, produced by Corning, a glass technology corporation. A Day Made of Glass was the first in a series of shorts that produced and performed the smart city as a frictionless environment of social and economic efficiency and harmony. The unifying and contextualising thread between the transparent dystopia in We and the flat, transparent utopia in A Day Made of Glass is Jacques Ellul’s work on the technological society and the society of technique. A focus on Ellul’s critique of technique helps to highlight the link between stark authoritarianism in We, and the subtle apolitical city in A Day Made of Glass, by underlining the authoritarianism embedded in the notion of the city/urban citizen-as-machine.

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