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The Digital Turn in Postcolonial Urbanism: Smart citizenship in the making of India's 100 smart cities

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-419
Number of pages15
JournalInstitute of British Geographers. Transactions
Issue number3
Early online date2 Mar 2018
Accepted/In press11 Sep 2017
E-pub ahead of print2 Mar 2018
PublishedSep 2018


King's Authors


he smart city as a “digital turn” in critical urban geography has gone largely unnoticed in postcolonial urbanism. This paper seeks to address this gap by examining the emergence of new forms of postcolonial citizenship at the intersection of digital and urban publics. In particular, I investigate the production of a “smart citizen” in India's 100 smart cities challenge – a state‐run inter‐urban competition that seeks to transform 100 existing cities through ICT‐driven urbanism. By examining the publicly available documents and online citizen consultations as well as observations of stakeholder workshops in four of the proposed smart cities, I illustrate how a global technocratic imaginary of “smart citizenship” exists alongside its vernacular translation of a “chatur citizen” – a politically engaged citizen rooted in multiple publics and spatialities. This takes place through three key processes – enumerations, performances and breaches. Enumerations are coercions by the state of an urban population that has so far been largely hidden from analogue technologies of governance and governmentality. Articulations are the performances of smart citizenship across digital and material domains that ironically extend historic social inequalities from the urban to the digital realm. Finally, breaches are the ruptures of the impenetrable technocratic walls around the global smart city, which provides a window into alternative and possible futures of postcolonial citizenship in India. Through these three processes, I argue that subaltern citizenship in the postcolony exists not in opposition, but across urban and digital citizenships. I conclude by offering the potential of a future postcolonial citizen who opens up entangled performances of compliance and connivance, authority and insecurity, visibility and indiscernibility across political, social, urban and digital publics.

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