Feeding the Digital Growth Machine: Data, the city, and the urban process under digital capitalism
Sponsored by the Digital Geography Specialty Group and the Urban Geography Specialty Group
Organizers: Joe Gallagher (UMBC), Alicia Sabatino (UMBC), Evan Thomas (UMBC), Dillon Mahmoudi (UMBC), and John G Stehlin (UNCG)
The growth machine has proven a durable concept for thinking about the capture of urban governance/policymaking by a class of urban elites who promote land use intensification for profit (Logan and Molotch 2005). Building on Walker (2018), Rosen & Alvarez-León & (forthcoming) argue that the rise of urban digital platforms, competition among cities to attract tech firms, the ubiquity of smart/sensing technologies, and the mediation of everyday life through various digital products marks an emergence of a new force shaping the urban: the digital growth machine. Rosen & Alvarez-León argue that the resulting embeddedness of digital capital companies’ in both urban life and urban governance structures effectively masks the underlying, intersecting urban and digital accumulation forces that coordinate to promote tech-related contemporary urban growth. Congruent phenomena provide key insights to the inner workings of the digital growth machine. The racialized expropriation of platform capitalism (McMillan Cottom 2020), new forms of digital spatial fixes (Greene and Joseph 2015), bifurcation of platform labor (Mahmoudi, Levenda, and Stehlin 2020), cognitive cultural capitalism (Scott 2007; Wyly 2013), technologies of real estate (Shaw 2018; Fields 2019), digital caring labor (Burns and Andrucki 2020), platform automation and data production (Attoh, Wells, and Cullen 2019), industries of digital deprivation (Perry 2018), surveillance capitalism (Zuboff 2019), and data colonialism (Thatcher, O’Sullivan, and Mahmoudi 2016; Couldry and Mejias 2019) all suggest particular perspectives on the digital growth machine, connecting it to new form(s) of land-, labor-, and capital-derived profits predicated on the urban experience.
These forms of digital exploitation and expropriation don’t necessarily leave tangible or obvious traces in the built environment. Nevertheless, the digital growth machine still transforms spatial relationships in the city and novel contradictions arise from the tension between the fixity of urban spaces and the flow(s) of data and capital. Scholars are beginning to answer the question posed by Leszczynski (2019) and built upon by Attoh et. al: what kind of city is built by big data in tandem with the digital growth machine? While technology firms and other digital growth machine actors profit, their quest for data-driven growth leads to a city that is “defined by alienation and isolation” (Attoh et. al 2019). This concept follows recent work which helps us see platforms and their ilk for what they really are: they are at their core digital rentiers and landlords (Rigi and Prey 2015; Sadowski 2020) whose digital form is fairly novel but whose reproduction involves enclosure and extraction. Faced with novel digital form, Walker (2018) argues for the need of collective action against tech capital while Datta & Odendall (2019) argue, with others, for the need to combat the consolidation of power that is made possible through digital technologies in cities.
We invite papers that explore the production of urban space by the digital growth machine as well as those that articulate modes of resistance to the digital growth machine.
We would like to see a variety of case studies attentive to the specificity of place and welcome work ranging from well-known platforms (i.e. AirBnB, Zillow, Uber) alongside less spectacularized technologies and processes (i.e. data center-based REITs, GPS NMEA data, etc.).
Potential questions include, but are not limited to:
- What does uneven development look like in the era of platform urbanism and the digital growth machine?
- How has land-use intensification mutated with the rise of platforms? How have platforms expanded avenues for profit without land-use intensification?
- Who constitutes the urban elite in the digital growth machine epoch?
- In what way does the digital build the city and the city build the digital in an agglomerative feedback cycle?
- Who and by what means is data produced, extracted, and/or colonized to produce urban space?
- What constitutes platform labor and the labor of data production deployed in smart city governance?
- How is the gig economy connected to new forms of urban segregation and/or new modes of proletarianization?
- How do the algorithmic logics of digital technologies reinforce or queer social norms (following Cockayne and Richardson 2017).
- How do glitches at the periphery of platform urbanism feed the digital growth machine? How might they open up opportunities to counter it?
- How have digital technologies such as geofencing and platform real estate produced surplus spaces and enabled new forms of the spatial fix?
Feeding the Digital Growth Machine 1: Theorizing the digital growth machine
Tuesday, March 1st, 2022; 8:00 AM ET (see other timezones 🌐); Virtual 17
|The Digital Growth Machine: Urban Change and the Ideology of Technology||Jovanna Rosen, Luis Leon Alvarez|
|Blockchain Urbanism and the Digital-Territorial Politics of ‘Exit’||Casey Lynch, Alex Munoz Viso|
|Turning urban workplaces into assets||Lizzie Richardson|
|A crisis of data? Value creation through transparency practices in data broker platforms||Matthew Zook, Ian Spangler|
|Discussant||John Stehlin, UNCG @jostehlin|
Feeding the Digital Growth Machine 2: City of data, data of the city
Tuesday, March 1st, 2022; 9:40 AM (see other timezones 🌐); Virtual 62
|Policy failure revisited: The post-political urban development strategies of large|
|Constance Carr, Makus Hesse|
|Tech in the City: Charting a New Epistemological Course for Urban Datafication||Mira Pijselman|
|Big Data Exposed: GNSS & the Quest for Accuracy in the Digital City||Tommy Cooke, Dan Cohen|
|Countering the digital growth machine with Slow AI||Jeremy Crampton|
|Discussant||Luis F. Alvarez León, Dartmouth @lfalvarezleon|
Feeding the Digital Growth Machine 3: Land and embeddedness in the smart city
Tuesday, March 1st, 2022; 2:00 PM ET (see other timezones 🌐); Virtual 60
|Keeping track: Temporal Strategies of Governing in the Jakarta Smart City||Sophie Webber|
|From ‘silicon beach’ to ‘tech central’: spatially defining new technology sectors in sydney||Donald McNeill|
|Financing Smart-Eco Projects in Taipei: Public-Private Collaborative Governance, Institutional Reconfiguration, and Resource Reallocation||Catherine Chang|
|Gaps in Dis/embedding Platforms: How Ride-Hailing Actors Experience Slowing Down Digitality||Anurag Mazumdar|
|Discussant||Emma Slager, UWT @EmmaSlager|
Feeding the Digital Growth Machine 4: Labor, housing, and the gig economy Part 1
Tuesday, March 1st, 2022; 3:40 PM ET (see other timezones 🌐); Virtual 19
|Linking local housing and global finance: the state, land administration infrastructure and blockchain.||Anetta Proskurovska|
|The problematisation of big data circulation in Santiago de Chile’s Public Transport: fragmentations, expertise, and translations.||Ignacio Perez|
|Worlding Platform Urbanism: Digital Informalities in Greater Jakarta, Indonesia||Samuel Nowak|
|Discussant||Katie J Wells, Georgetown @katiejwells|
Feeding the Digital Growth Machine 5: Labor, housing, and the gig economy Part 2
Tuesday, March 1st, 2022; 5:20 PM ET (see other timezones 🌐); Virtual 20
|Spatial Production, Digitalities and “The Digital”||Clancy Wilmott, Emma Fraser|
|Digital Arbitrage: The Extractive Geographies of Cloud Production||Fabian Ferrari, Kelle Howson|
|Digital (Neo)Colonialism in the Smart City||Ryan Burns, Morgan Mouton|
|Discussant||Kafui Attoh, CUNY @attohkafui|
- Attoh, Kafui, Katie Wells, and Declan Cullen. 2019. “‘We’re Building Their Data’: Labor, Alienation, and Idiocy in the Smart City.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, June, 0263775819856626. doi.org/10.1177/0263775819856626.
- Burns, Ryan, and Max Andrucki. 2020. “Smart Cities: Who Cares?” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, July, 0308518X20941516. doi.org/10.1177/0308518X20941516.
- Cockayne, Daniel G., and Lizzie Richardson. 2017. “Queering Code/Space: The Co-Production of Socio-Sexual Codes and Digital Technologies.” Gender, Place & Culture 24 (11): 1642–58.
- Couldry, Nick, and Ulises A. Mejias. 2019. “Data Colonialism: Rethinking Big Data’s Relation to the Contemporary Subject.” Television & New Media 20 (4): 336–49. doi.org/10.1177/1527476418796632.
- Datta, Ayona, and Nancy Odendaal. 2019. “Smart Cities and the Banality of Power.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 37 (3): 387–92. doi.org/10.1177/0263775819841765.
- Fields, Desiree. 2019. “Automated Landlord: Digital Technologies and Post-Crisis Financial Accumulation.” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, May, 0308518X19846514. doi.org/10.1177/0308518X19846514.
- Greene, Daniel Marcus, and Daniel Joseph. 2015. “The Digital Spatial Fix.” TripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society 13 (2): 223–47.
- Leszczynski, Agnieszka. 2019. “Glitchy Vignettes of Platform Urbanism.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, October, 026377581987872. doi.org/10.1177/0263775819878721.
- Logan, John, and Harvey Molotch. 2005. “The City as a Growth Machine.” The Urban Sociology Reader, 97–105.
- Mahmoudi, Dillon, Anthony M Levenda, and John G. Stehlin. 2020. “Political Ecologies of Platform Urbanism: Digital Labor and Data Infrastructures.” In Urban Platforms and the Future City: Transformations in Infrastructure, Governance, Knowledge and Everyday Life, edited by Mike Hodson, Julia Kasmire, Andrew
- McMeekin, John G. Stehlin, and Kevin Ward, 1st Edition, 40–52. New York: Routledge.
- McMillan Cottom, Tressie. 2020. “Where Platform Capitalism and Racial Capitalism Meet: The Sociology of Race and Racism in the Digital Society.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 6 (4): 441–49. doi.org/10.1177/2332649220949473.
- Perry, Imani. 2018. Vexy Thing: On Gender and Liberation. Illustrated edition. Durham: Duke University Press Books
- Rigi, Jakob, and Robert Prey. 2015. “Value, Rent, and the Political Economy of Social Media.” The Information Society 31 (5): 392–406. doi.org/10.1080/01972243.2015.1069769.
- Sadowski, Jathan. 2020. “The Internet of Landlords: Digital Platforms and New Mechanisms of Rentier Capitalism.” Antipode, February, anti.12595. doi.org/10.1111/anti.12595.
- Scott, Allen J. 2007. “Capitalism and Urbanization in a New Key? The Cognitive-Cultural Dimension.” Social Forces 85 (4): 1465–82.
- Shaw, Joe. 2018. “Platform Real Estate: Theory and Practice of New Urban Real Estate Markets.” Urban Geography, October, 1–28. doi.org/10.1080/02723638.2018.1524653.
- Thatcher, Jim, David O’Sullivan, and Dillon Mahmoudi. 2016. “Data Colonialism through Accumulation by Dispossession: New Metaphors for Daily Data.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34 (6): 990–1006. doi.org/10.1177/0263775816633195.
- Walker, Richard A. 2018. Pictures of a Gone City: Tech and the Dark Side of Prosperity in the San Francisco Bay Area. Oakland, CA: PM Press.
- Wyly, Elvin. 2013. “The City of Cognitive–Cultural Capitalism.” City 17 (3): 387–94. doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2013.807014.Zuboff, Professor Shoshana. 2019. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power. Main edition. London: Profile Books.