The terminal city: elemental politics and mediated urbanism

Coley, Rob (2015) The terminal city: elemental politics and mediated urbanism. In: Political Agency in the Digital Age: Media, Participation and Democracy ( ECREA Communication and Democracy conference 2015), 9-10 October, Copenhagen Business School.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive


In announcing government support for the new city of Dholera, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, observed that unlike cities of the past, which have been constructed on riverbanks and along highways, cities of the future will be built around digital infrastructure. When complete, Dholera will join other ‘smart cities’, like Songdo in South Korea and Masdar near Abu Dhabi. These are programmable spaces, with digital sensors embedded in the entire urban environment, enabling a form of civic management based on real-time data processing. Here, in a cybernetic acceleration of Britain’s garden city movement, and Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse, the city becomes a network of sustainability and equilibrium. Naturally, this utopian rhetoric is not exclusive to ‘developing’ nations – European governments are also eager to ‘reboot’ inefficient industrial cities with smart technology.

Yet the smart city is not a governmental space – it is intensely neoliberal, a space in which power is a matter of ‘extrastatecraft’ (Easterling, 2014), and where the real potential of data unconsciously generated by the population is secured and exploited by global corporations. In Richard Grusin’s (2010) terms, smart cities will be ‘premediated’ zones, post-political ghettos in which future citizenship is controlled and managed invisibly in the present. This paper will argue that speculations about how we might live in smart cities alert us to broader dangers concerning emergent forms of power. Specifically, these issues return us to Fredric Jameson’s (1988) aesthetic of ‘cognitive mapping’ and its basis in urban experience, where the inability of individuals and collectives to figure their place in a capitalist system is understood to be politically neutralizing. The threat of smart power demands that we explore a form of ‘elemental’ politics that, in contrast to Jameson, does not strive to figure or represent a system, but attunes itself affectively to the various agencies and relations immanent to such a system, and to the instability of these relations.

Keywords:smart cities, environmentality, media ecologies
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
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ID Code:18986
Deposited On:13 Oct 2015 19:15

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