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The Spectrum of Control: A Social Theory of the Smart City

December 06, 2016 by Jathan Sadowski, Frank A. Pasquale III

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There is a certain allure to the idea that cities allow a person to both feel at home and like a stranger in the same place. That one can know the streets and shops, avenues and alleys, while also going days without being recognized. But as elites fill cities with “smart” technologies — turning them into platforms for the “Internet of Things” (IoT): sensors and computation embedded within physical objects that then connect, communicate, and/or transmit information with or between each other through the Internet — there is little escape from a seamless web of surveillance and power. This paper will outline a social theory of the “smart city” by developing our Deleuzian concept of the “spectrum of control.” We present two illustrative examples: biometric surveillance as a form of monitoring, and automated policing as a particularly brutal and exacting form of manipulation. We conclude by offering normative guidelines for governance of the pervasive surveillance and control mechanisms that constitute an emerging critical infrastructure of the “smart city.”