Being a ‘citizen’ in the smart city: up and down the scaffold of smart citizen participation in Dublin, Ireland


Reacting to critiques that the smart city is overly technocratic and instrumental, companies and cities have reframed their initiatives as ‘citizen-centric’. However, what ‘citizen-centric’ means in practice is rarely articulated. We draw on and extend Sherry Arnstein’s seminal work on participation in planning and renewal programmes to create the ‘Scaffold of Smart Citizen Participation’—a conceptual tool to unpack the diverse ways in which the smart city frames citizens. We use this scaffold to measure smart citizen inclusion, participation, and empowerment in smart city initiatives in Dublin, Ireland. Our analysis illustrates how most ‘citizen-centric’ smart city initiatives are rooted in stewardship, civic paternalism, and a neoliberal conception of citizenship that prioritizes consumption choice and individual autonomy within a framework of state and corporate defined constraints that prioritize market-led solutions to urban issues, rather than being grounded in civil, social and political rights and the common good. We conclude that significant normative work is required to rethink ‘smart citizens’ and ‘smart citizenship’ and to remake smart cities if they are to truly become ‘citizen-centric’.

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    This approach is now commonly practised in the big data age as data-driven science, where a combination of abduction and inductive data exploration is used to identify salient hypotheses for deductive testing (Miller 2010; Kitchin 2014a, b).

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    A gathering where programmers collaboratively code in an extreme manner over a short period of time, a few days or over a weekend.

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    At Croke Park Stadium, an 80,000 seater venue owned and operated by the Gaelic Athletics Association.

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The research for this paper was provided by a European Research Council Advanced Investigator Award, ‘The Programmable City’ (ERC-2012-AdG-323636).

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Correspondence to Rob Kitchin.

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The research for this paper was passed for ethical approval by both the European Research Council and Maynooth University research ethics committees.

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Cardullo, P., Kitchin, R. Being a ‘citizen’ in the smart city: up and down the scaffold of smart citizen participation in Dublin, Ireland. GeoJournal 84, 1–13 (2019).

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  • Smart city
  • Citizens
  • Participation
  • Engagement
  • Citizenship
  • Rights