1. Critical Digital (Participation and Innovation for) Urban Governance

Picture by Veronica Vitale

I am interested in understanding how digital and societal technologies interplay in producing innovate participatory processes that cha(lle)nge the traditional forms and function(ing) of urban governance. This entails investigating, amongst the other, the following questions: what novel agents have emerged in the digital age and do they exercise agency in public space? What are the contestations and antagonisms brought about the massive introduction of digital technologies in the urban life? How critical issues of monopolist appropriation and control of infrastructure and power imbalances, opinion polarisation and manipulation, (cyber)control, data-protection and censorship, limitation of freedom and social dissensus pigeonholing, trust and legitimacy are brought to the public fore and addressed via the city governance? Stepping beyond the dichotomy between the post-political technology-optimism of the smart innovation perspective and the positions of the “wisdom of the crowd” discontents, I aim at offering a critical appreciation of the epistemological, geographical and socio-political challenges posed by digital social innovation in line with those prefigured by the “Shared Digital Europe” manifesto.

I name this form of agency as Critical Digital Social Innovation and describe this as:

  • Deconstructing the re-production processes of the neoliberal city (instead of perpetuating them);
  • Advancing collective agency to answer unsatisfied needs by transforming social institutions (e.g. welfare systems job organization, unsustainable models of consumption…) and political institutions (direct action instead of representative);
  • Creatively re-interpreting the political possibilities of intervention in the public space;
  • Being performed by heterogeneous and plural constellation of social actors that empower social relationships from the bottom-up;
  • Contrasting the material and symbolic commodification of urban (public) space rooting on ideals aspiration for more equal, democratic and sustainable society.
Photo by Chiara Certomà

Therefore, critical digital social innovation characterised political agency as a form of performative, instead of discursive, material-semiotic practices endowed with a political value. This is the object of my current research on “the ordinary political” that characterises as a “spatialized political procedure  [that] can be made enduring and give content to the equality expressed in the extra-ordinary events in the aftermaths of the insurgencies” (Swyngedow 2014 ).

This research line builds upon my previous work on what I called “spontaneous smartness“. It investigated how different social agents imagine and assemble the city via smart technologies and processes; and how smart configures, engages and empowers (or not) social differences. The research focused on the emergence of spontaneous smartness (i.e. the effect of bottom-up agency of heterogeneous actors deploying the potential of smart processes toward innovative community-oriented initiatives) which addresses different social needs via creative&collective smart solutions; and avoid social differences to turn into inequalities.

On this research line see, for instance:

C.Certomà, F.Corsini, M. Frey (2020) “Hyperconnected, receptive and do-it-yourself city. An investigation into the European imaginary of crowdsourcing for urban governance”, Technology in Society, 61

C. Certomà, M. Dyer, F. Rizzi and L.Pocatilu (2017) (eds.) Citizen Empowerment and Innovation in the Data-Rich City, Springer, New York;

C.Certomà and F. Rizzi (2017) “Crowdsourcing process for citizen-driven governance” in C.Certomà, M. Dyer, F. Rizzi and L.Pocatilu (eds) “Citizen Empowerment and Innovation in the Data-Rich City”  Springer, New York, p 57-78

Corsini, F., Certomà, C., Dyer M. and Frey M.(2018) “Participatory Energy: research, imaginaries and practices on people’ contribute to energy systems in the smart city”, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 142;

M.Dyer, F.Corsini and C.Certomà (2017) “Making urban governance, planning and design a participatory goal. A collaborative urbanism agenda”, Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers – Urban Design and Planning, 170, 4;

Certomà, F. Rizzi and F. Corsini (2015) “Crowdsourcing urban sustainability. Data, people and technologies in participatory governance”, Futures, 74