As part of the “Defining the Sensor Society” conference organized by Mark Andrejevic and Mark Burdon through the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, Jennifer Gabrys gave a keynote entitled, “Environmental Sensors and Participatory Urbanism: Troubling the Practices of Data-Based Citizenship.” This presentation analyzed existing platforms for enabling urban participation, and considered the extent to which platforms might generate alterantive urban actions when participants engage in ways other than intended. An abstract for the talk follows below.

Presentations were made on a number of sensor-focused topics, including a keynote by Lisa Parks on drones and vertical media; and a discussion by Tomas Holderness on PetaJakarta, a collective project using social media and a web platform to crowdsource and warn of flooding in Jakarta.

A full set of audio recordings from the event is available here. A final panel discussion with Mark Andrejevic, Paul Barclay (moderator), Edward Felten, Jennifer Gabrys, The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, and Lisa Parks was recorded and broadcast by ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas program. The audio recording is available here.

Abstract for “Environmental Sensors and Participatory Urbanism: Troubling the Practices of Data-Based Citizenship”

Urban infrastructures are increasingly embedded with computational sensor technologies that are intended to automate urban processes and facilitate urban efficiencies. While such smart city developments might clearly be addressed as infrastructural technologies, at the same time they influence modes of urban engagement through interaction both with urban sensor technologies, and with smart phones, digital devices and platforms that are meant to co-activate urban functions. This presentation discusses the different ways in which sensor-based and digitally enabled modes of DIY and participatory urbanism have been taken up on the one hand as grassroots strategies for articulating new types of commons and democratic urban participation; and on the other hand as strategies integral to smart city development proposals.

What are the convergences and divergences across these different mobilizations of DIY urbanism? How do models of participatory urbanism such as updatable maps for street repairs, air quality sensors, or platforms for tree planting organize new infrastructural and citizenship practices that emerge at this juncture of sensor-based and data-based citizenship? By focusing specifically on the use of citizen sensing applications for environmental monitoring and sustainability, this presentation considers the distinct modes of participation and urbanism that emerge in these speculative and actual projects. The presentation discusses the specific capacities of citizens and publics that are operationalized through digital practices dependent upon urban environmental sensors, and speculates about what other practices and imaginaries might emerge through an approach that specifically seeks to trouble the dynamics of DIY digital urbanisms.

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