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Urban Data Politics in Times of Crisis

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Drawing on the study of different cities in the Global South, this book explores how the intensive use of data changes politics, power relations and everyday life in contemporary cities.

Across the volume, expert contributors show how urban actors, from the state to activists, are increasingly using data as a resource to empower their actions and support their claims and shows how times of crisis are moments when the power of data is made visible.

Focusing on the different dimensions of data power and politics in the urban realm, this is an important contribution to our understanding of how datafication transforms the places in which we live and how we experience them.

Open access

Data Power in Action shows how the intensive use of data is changing politics, power relations and everyday life in contemporary cities. The book argues that data has become a generative force in shaping what cities are, how they are governed and lived. It investigates how urban actors – from the state to activists and digital platforms – use data as a resource to empower their actions and support their claims. Drawing on the study of different cities in the Global South, Data Power in Action investigates times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or the invasion of Ukraine, as moments when the power of data is made visible, accelerated, and legitimized. Written by major scholars in the fields of critical data studies and urban studies, this is the first edited collection that specifically focuses on the different dimensions of data power and politics in the urban realm. Highlighting agency in the datafication of cities, the book is structured in three parts: Frames, which looks at broad (infra)structural trends; Strategies, which focuses on institutional actors; and Tactics, which researches practices of citizens and civil society organizations.

Open access

Data Power in Action shows how the intensive use of data is changing politics, power relations and everyday life in contemporary cities. The book argues that data has become a generative force in shaping what cities are, how they are governed and lived. It investigates how urban actors – from the state to activists and digital platforms – use data as a resource to empower their actions and support their claims. Drawing on the study of different cities in the Global South, Data Power in Action investigates times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or the invasion of Ukraine, as moments when the power of data is made visible, accelerated, and legitimized. Written by major scholars in the fields of critical data studies and urban studies, this is the first edited collection that specifically focuses on the different dimensions of data power and politics in the urban realm. Highlighting agency in the datafication of cities, the book is structured in three parts: Frames, which looks at broad (infra)structural trends; Strategies, which focuses on institutional actors; and Tactics, which researches practices of citizens and civil society organizations.

Open access

Data Power in Action shows how the intensive use of data is changing politics, power relations and everyday life in contemporary cities. The book argues that data has become a generative force in shaping what cities are, how they are governed and lived. It investigates how urban actors – from the state to activists and digital platforms – use data as a resource to empower their actions and support their claims. Drawing on the study of different cities in the Global South, Data Power in Action investigates times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or the invasion of Ukraine, as moments when the power of data is made visible, accelerated, and legitimized. Written by major scholars in the fields of critical data studies and urban studies, this is the first edited collection that specifically focuses on the different dimensions of data power and politics in the urban realm. Highlighting agency in the datafication of cities, the book is structured in three parts: Frames, which looks at broad (infra)structural trends; Strategies, which focuses on institutional actors; and Tactics, which researches practices of citizens and civil society organizations.

Open access

Data is everywhere, increasingly mediating and shaping all domains of life. It is urgent in this context, argues the introduction, to investigate the political nature of data. However, much of the investigation of data politics focuses on what concerns researchers in the Global North – big data, data infrastructures, cybersecurity, surveillance, and so on, and is rarely explicit about the diverse and fragmented nature of data, particularly in the Global South. Therefore, while considering in its first section issues that are planetary in reach, such as data and platform capitalism, data ethics, and data justice, contributions in the book focus essentially on situations outside Europe and North America – in Kenya, China, India, South Africa. Beyond such a provincialization of data politics, the book has three aims: to analyse data politics specifically in the urban realm; to propose a practice-orientated approach while structural accounts are predominant in urban data studies; and to look at crises as moments of acceleration, visibility, and legitimation of new forms of data power.

The introduction then discusses the concepts that are central to the book – urban data politics, data power in action crises – explains the structure of the book, and highlights the main arguments of its chapters.

Open access

This chapter focuses on ‘Covid war rooms’ created through a repurposing of the control and command centres of Indian smart cities in the context of the coronavirus pandemic by the Indian Smart City Mission. We study this process in the making in webinars that took place in the early days of the pandemic. Webinars and war rooms are analysed as sites of data- and technopolitics in the making where the pandemic works as test bed, accelerator, and legitimation for the full use of the smart city’s surveillant affordances. We argue that these are sites where ‘smartness as epistemology’ can be observed at work. However, we conclude, Indian urban data politics, both highly centralized in its organization and much more fragmented across scales and actors when observed in action, blurs the idea of a frictionless roll-out of this way of seeing and organizing the digitalized city.

Open access

This chapter analyses the tactics of civil society organizations (CSOs) in three South African cities: Cape Town; Ekurhuleni, in the Gauteng City-Region; and Buffalo City. Drawing on work on data politics, data activism, and postcolonial STS, it uses the notion of ‘conjugated knowledge positions’ to open the reflection to data tactics as part of broader knowledge politics and envisage them as negotiated within a multi-actor game. Based on the case studies, the chapter shows how CSO tactics are positioned along a spectrum between data power and knowledge power. Extending work on CSO urban data politics, the authors conclude that South African CSOs have not rolled out and rolled back data-focused tactics as a consequence of moments of faith and disillusionment in the power of data, but rather mobilize data and other forms of knowledge according to local political contexts and interactional situations.

Open access