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Acknowledging the Idiot in the Smart City: Experimentation and Citizenship

  • School of Geography and the Environment Oxford South Parks Road Oxford, England, OX1 3UB United Kingdom (map)

In recent years, an experimental and participatory grammar has been added to smart city projects around the world but it is still unclear how these notions are being translated and operationalised in practice. In this presentation, I examine the case of ‘Shared Streets for a Low-Carbon District’, an urban experiment that sought to reduce carbon emissions and promote more sustainable habits in a neighbourhood of Santiago de Chile through urban tactics and participatory sensing. I problematise the emerging nature of this experiment by examining its actual capacities to influence political decisions and configure certain forms of participation and publics. I show that despite the strategies deployed by those responsible for the project to turn the corporate concept of "smart city" to a more citizen-driven version, in practice, a type of ecological awareness and participation was previously installed, while others unexpected situations were made invisible. Based on recent works on the conceptual character of the idiot, I will characterise these situations of recalcitrance and overflown as ‘idiotic’ manifestations and argue that it is necessary to acknowledge them as sites of re-composition to make truly experimental interventions in smart city initiatives. In other words, I will argue that this project, like many other "smart experiments" in public space, conceived the experimentation in its enfolding capacities, rather than use the urban experimentation in its unfolding capacities; that is, the capacity for open up new sites of political engagement and speculation with the city and democracy



Dr. Martin Tironi 16:30 -16:50


Prof. Gillian Rose SoGE (16:50 - 17:00)

Dr. Tim Schwanen SoGE / TSU (17:00 - 17:10)

Open discussion (17:10 / 17:30)

Martin Tironi is Sociologist, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC). Master in Sociology, Université Paris-Sorbonne V. PhD and Post-Doctorate, Center for Sociology of Innovation, École des Mines de Paris and researcher at the School of Design PUC. He is currently Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Invention and Social Process at Goldsmiths. His research areas are digital technologies and mobility, urban infrastructures and cosmopolitical design. He is currently developing a research project (Fondecyt, 2018-2021) titled “Datafication of urban environments and individuals: analyzing the designs, practices and discourses around the generation of digital data in Chile”. Some of his recent publications are: ‘Unpacking a Citizen Self-tracking Device: Smartness and Idiocy in the Accumulation of Cycling Mobility Data’ (Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 2017) and ‘Cosmopolitical Implications in the Prototyping Process: Ethnographic Design Practice at the National Zoo in Santiago, Chile’ (Journal of Cultural Economy, 2018)

Gillian Rose is Professor of Human Geography at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of the British Academy. Trained as a cultural geographer, she has a longstanding interest in how images mediate relations with places, spaces and landscapes, and in visual research methods. Her current research focuses on digital visualisations, in particular how they are shifting our experiences of cities. She blogs at and is on Twitter @ProfGillian.

Tim Schwanen is Associate Professor in Transport Studies and Director of the Transport Studies Unit (TSU) in the School of Geography and the Environment as well as a Fellow at St Anne’s College, all at the University of Oxford. Also, he is Visiting Professor in Human Geography at the School of Business, Economics and Law of the University of Gothenburg. Additionally, he co-directs the RCUK funded Centre on Innovation and Energy Demand, in which the TSU collaborates with SPRU at the University of Sussex and the Sustainable Consumption Institute at the University of Manchester on issues of the emergence, diffusion and impact of low-energy innovations. In 2013-2015 he was the editor-in-chief of Journal of Transport Geography and he currently serves on the editorial advisory boards of eight academic journals in geography, transport studies and sustainability research.

Photo credits: Armando Lobos /