University of Sheffield and University of Amsterdam

Sheffield, United Kingdom,


There is now considerable research and development on new possibilities for radically extended urban automation via robotic, sensors and smart control systems, reflected in the development of commercial products and technical demonstrations and development. But as yet there has not been significant interest from the urban studies community despite the way in which the city is being positioned and used as a test bed for new automated logics of control.

The international workshop gathers together leading interdisciplinary critical social scientists and reflexive practitioners in the field to map and examine the emergence, applications, and socio-political implications of automation technologies and processes, as applied to a widening range of urban sectors.

There are currently four significant gaps in our conceptual and empirical understanding of Urban Automation (UA), which the workshop will examine:

  1. How might the development and application of UA be conceptualised as a distinctive 
socio- technical field and range of cultural practices? What actors and dynamics are 

  2. How is UA emerging in different areas of urban life and is it (re)producing forms of 
inequality, intolerance and insecurity? 

  3. To what extent is it part of logic of centralised hub control or the neo-liberal governance 
of the self? What effects on urban citizenship can we see now and anticipate in the 
future and how significant are they? 

  4. What, if any, are the potentials of urban settings of experimental Smart City creation, 
such as "living labs", to democratize processes of UA innovation? 

As such, the core aim for the workshop is to develop new perspectives on contemporary experiments in UA that go beyond the familiar critique of corporate smart cities and infrastructures, to understand how digital technologies and infrastructures, software code, robotics, sensors, and wireless hubs work within different sectors, shaping city processes with distinct socio-political implications. 

Evening Lecture 4th September

The Diamond, 32 Leavygreave Road, Sheffield S3 7RD

5.30pm – 7pm


Matthew Gandy

Negative Luminescence

The increasingly pervasive phenomenon of light pollution spans several different fields of concern including the loss of the night sky, energy wastage, and the effects of artificial light on circadian rhythms and nocturnal ecology. Although the scale of the problem has grown significantly in recent decades, the underlying dynamics remain only partially understood beyond the identification of specific technological pathways such as the rise of LEDs (light emitting diodes) or the capitalist transformation of the nocturnal realm. It is suggested that current approaches to the study of light, including the identification of “urban atmospheres”, the elaboration of existing approaches to urban ecology, or the extension of “smart city” type discourses, do not capture the full complexity of the politics of light under late modernity.

Robyn Dowling, Pauline McGuirk

Emergent Geographies of Smart/Automated Cities

In Australia, a national vision for making cities smart – which includes the automation of governance processes, services, and urban activities – has only recently emerged. Nonetheless, urban governments across Australia have been experimenting with shaping ‘the smart city’ through diverse governance visions. Alongside these visions, a host of smart initiatives are emerging—including around smart buildings and autonomous vehicles—with the potential to transform cities and urban life from the ground up. Drawing on examples in which automation is paramount, we explore the emergent processes and practices involved in making cities smart/automated in Australia. Remaining attentive to the importance of place in how smart cities are realized, we conclude with broader reflections on how smart/automation might change both cities and their governance.

The lectures will be followed by a drinks reception and buffet in the foyer of the Interdisciplinary Centre of the Social Sciences, directly opposite The Diamond.


Event date: 
Monday, September 4, 2017 - 09:00 to Wednesday, September 6, 2017 - 19:00