Are cities to be answered?

Townsend (2013, p.xii) defines smart cities as ‘places where information technology is wielded to address problems old and new’. Outlining a technology industry perspective, he describes a vision of smart cities that compute away congestion, global warming and declining health through automated sensors, software, digital networks and remote controls. For Vanalo (2013), the term is problematic rather than problem solving, (although he acknowledges there may be utility in the smart city concept) he is concerned with the possible effects of smart city discourses on cities and the people who live in them. Firstly, Vanalo (2013, p.2) suggests that such discourses may distance urban government from politics, by the re-framing the ‘urban question’ in terms of the environment and technology. Such a move broadens the ‘field of action’ for technicians, consultants and private companies, which as Morozov (2014) points out, certainly raises questions about checks and balances. Secondly, Vanalo (2013, p.3) describes the potential for what he calls ‘urban governmentality’. Referencing Foucault’s governmentality concept, in which ‘subjects perceive themselves and form their identities through processes of government which control, incite or suppress actions by deeming what is acceptable and what is unacceptable’ put simply the ‘conduct of conduct’ (Vanalo, 2013, p.3). He applies this concept to cities in Italy bidding for  EU research funding, competing to meet ‘smart city’ benchmarks and boost their rankings; ‘Cities are made responsible for the achievement of smartness, i.e. adherence to a specific model of technologically advanced, green and economically attractive city, while ‘diverse’ cities, those following different development paths, are implicitly re-framed as smart-deviant.’ (Vanalo, 2013, p.7). This reading of the smart city may seem an overly pessimistic, especially when set against breathless visions of efficient, green, healthy smart cities of the future, but I think it is useful that Vanalo identifies a potential depoliticization of urban issues, interests served and also questions the type of subjects or cities that discourses around this urban imaginary produce.

Morozov, E., 2014. Open City: Democracy, Technology and the City. Available at: < > [Accessed 13 February 2014].

Townsend, A.M., 2013. Smart cities: big data, civic hackers, and the quest for a new utopia, New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Vanalo, A., 2013.  Smartmentality: The Smart City as Disciplinary Strategy. Urban Studies. [eJournal] 1(16). Available through: Sage Journals website [Accessed 13 February 2014].


Graduating in Information and Media, I have been teaching ICT in secondary schools since 2000. My dissertation was on surveillance, CCTV and facial recognition. My passions lie in the use of ICTs in education.

I have a couple of ideas that I would like to pursue. The first is how integral the use of ICTs and especially, mobile phones are to young people and their sense of identity. The second is more the virtual and quantified self and the potential for metadata in image recognition and geotagging. Creatively, I am interested in pursuing a visual montage of data, like a geotagged AR overlay and drawing a narrative journey from the urban experience – maybe a souped-up Google glass.

social networking                                                                               

image recognition                                                     

augmented reality                                                                                      


In these contexts, mapping and social networking as platforms have implications for privacy and civil liberty. It is the seduction of proprietary enfranchisement that prosumers are potentially embracing without the education or necessary skills to negotiate transparency or ownership of personal data.

Smile Scanning

“At last, a really practical use for technology in the workplace. A Japanese railway company, concerned that its employees may not be looking delighted enough to see passengers, has introduced “smile scanning” software to keep tabs on how enthusiastically they are grinning.” Graham Snowdon


Hi Everyone,

Lovely to meet you all on Tuesday, except Tanya who I also hope to put a face and voice to the name soon 🙂

I am currently undertaking the MA Creative Media now in full time mode, the other modules I am taking this semester are the core module ‘Professional Media Practice’, and elective ‘Mediating the Environment’.

My personal research interests include discourses of ‘health’, focusing specifically on the shift from the welfare state, to the current neoliberal, individualised, privatisation of health practices and responsibilities. More recently my research interests have focused more upon the media’s representation and misinformation of environmental issues, particularly climate change. More generally I am interested in exploring how we can better use media to inform and educate the wider public in social issues, such as health education and climate change, rather than misleading, misinforming and disempowering.

I am not what you would call technologically or media/digital ‘savvy’, and am often asked by my peers why I choose an academic path in media studies. Quite simply, I love learning about, critiquing and questioning our media consumption practices. Currently I am particularly interested in the the impact of mobile media technologies on our information gathering and education practices; knowledge building and sharing blurring and dissolving traditional media hierarchies, the significance and rise of the ‘citizen journalist’, and what this means for our future communications and interactions privately and publicly, the impact on our perception of local and global spheres, and more generally our daily routines.


(Photo by

The weeks topics I am most intrigued by are Week 10 ‘Sustainability’ (an obvious choice!), Week 7, ‘Locative, Mobile and Public Sound’ (I’ve read some of Bull’s work previously on the concept of the ‘bubble’ (2004), and am fascinated by this private existence, detached ‘sonsorous envelopes’ moving through the public space, and how this impacts on our private sphere, and public interactions), and finally Week 4 ‘Public, Media, Urban Spaces’.

Last semester I took ‘Politics and Ethics’, and ‘Media ICTs in Everyday Life’, and can see initially how both will provide a good contextual base to start Digital Cities, which I chose to further develop my understanding of the digital environment we currently inhabit and are ever more engaged.

Overall, ‘Digital Cities’ is quite a diversion from my current knowledge, but I am extremely excited and looking forward to the challenge. Similarly, I have not undertaken a practical project since year 2 of undergrad, so I am considering undertaking a photographic, possibly auto-ethnographic project of some kind ‘recording’ and capturing our daily digital ‘footprint’, whilst considering how our daily routines are mediated through the digital, and our personal mobile media (thinking aloud here).

Really looking forward to getting fully stuck in, and reading everyone’s blogs.

Have a wonderful weekend all 🙂



This is ‘Me’

Hello everyone! This first blog post is to introduce me and give you a little bit of background about my job, my studies and some feedback based on the first seminar.

I have been a student on MA Creative Media, since Sept 2011 and have so far completed modules in Sonic Media; Querying ICT’s; Practicing Media Research; Beyond the Screen: Future Fiction and Audiences; and Digital Practice and Pedagogy. I came to the MA mainly from a creative/teaching background without really knowing which direction this was going to take me, particularly because I am a bit  of an information magpie, and love aquiring new knowledge. However, the broad boundries that corral most of my interests are collaborative digital communities and prosumer relationships between artists and audience. (This is the last module before major project/dissertation, therefore I really should nail down my research focus soon.)

Since 2002 I have taught at Sussex Downs College, mainly for the FdA Digital Media Design (a University of Brighton validated qualification), where my background before this was a variety of art and design teaching and working in graphic/multimedia design. I have two young children and currently juggle working part-time with parenting and studying. I am a bit of a sucker for having a busy schedule therefore I also have involvement with various voluntary, community based events.

Listening to the audio file, from this weeks seminar, was very interesting, it felt as if there had been a presence of me in the room, as I was referred to on a number of occasions. I look forward to placing an image to a voice for everyone involved, particularly Rachel who I met (virtually) last year when we did the Practicing Media module together.

In the seminar Frauke asked “What do you find most interesting/alarming about the idea of digital cities?”. My initial response was to wonder what difference it makes that I approach this as someone who has limited experience of living in a large city.

I then considered how difficult it must be to have a concrete definition of what constitutes a digital city, seeing as they are not bound by any easily defined perimeters. Where technology has allowed people to view, interact and work in cities without needing a physical presence there. Giving opportunities to those previously separated by distance to benefit from the features of a city.

One aspect which alarms me about digital cities is the reliance on technology and how technology is used to try add levels of control to an ultimately chaotic system. This thought comes from the current situation of extreme weather, where it disrupts infrastructures dependent on technology and electricity, particularly apt after Frauke highlighted that technology makes use of water based metaphors e.g. flood, torrent, flow and wave.

The content of the module looks very interesting, some of it looks like it might bleed into some of my current knowledge, which is comforting and some of it looks completely new, which is exciting. My current intention is to attempt the creative practice option for assessment 2, although I have no initial ideas as to content or platform. My plan for each module has been to enter it without too many preconceived ideas and enter a learning journey, where I am open to new ideas and straying down unknown paths.

Bit of a Bio


Hi, my name is James Branch. I oscillate wildly between being a teacher and a student. I teach part-time at Winchester School of Art. I’m also a student on the MRes in Arts and Cultural Research course here at Brighton. I’m particularly interested in questioning how design/designers come to terms with the use of locational information in their work and the wider issues that this throws up. Looking forward to studying this Digital Cities module and bouncing some ideas around with all the good folk I met yesterday.

This isn’t a picture of me – I have less hair, but something to get the ball rolling… Artful anti-recognition techniques. Thanks to @_Undt for the link. Photo by Emily Raw.



Welcome to MJM20 Digital Cities

Students taking the module MJM20 ‘Digital Cities’ are creating weekly blog posts where they share a range of material (including case studies, news stories, visuals and documentation of their own experience) relevant to each week’s topic and present this material by discussing it in the light of key concepts and theories studied each week.

Some students make these blog posts available to the public while others choose to keep them ‘private’ to the module group (these posts are only available after logging in).