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Varieties of smart urbanism in the UK: Discursive logics, the state and local urban context

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Federico Caprotti, Robert Mark Cowley

Original languageEnglish
JournalTransactions of the institute of british geographers
Early online date10 Jan 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Jan 2019


King's Authors


The paper analyses the varieties of smart urbanism to be found in the contemporary urban landscape in the UK. In so doing, it builds on and extends two currently dominant sets of critiques of the smart city: those that call into question its technocratic and top‐down modes of governance, and those that describe the smart city as an empty signifier. The paper makes sense of the UK's variegated local smart urban practices by tracing the emergence of a national, state‐led cultural economy of smart urbanism. Based on an analysis of smart‐city programmes in 34 UK cities, we identify two broad discursive logics through which varieties of smart urbanism are produced and performed. First, the invocation of crisis forms a discursive foundation on which place‐specific logics are based. Second, sets of what we term variegated logics are differently combined to build on the “foundational story” of crisis in the construction of local smart agendas. We discuss three of these variegated logics: the city portrayed as technological simulacrum; the focus on specific sectoral activities; and a chameleonic tendency to envelop previous eco‐urban agendas into smart urbanism. By making these logics visible, the paper opens up a new critical space for debate about alternative future pathways that smart cities might take.

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