Alison Powell: “Undoing Optimization: The Smart City and Afterwards”

01.06.2022 CDC Events – Sommer 2022

1. Juni, 18 Uhr, C40.256, Lecture


Alison Powell

This talk unpacks the problems with and potential responses to the tendency towards optimization in socio-technical practice. Looking across twenty years of ‘smart city’ efforts it provides new ways of seeing urban entanglement. The talk focuses on the ways that citizens work with, and against, technology to exercise citizenship.  Techno-centric contexts can direct civic action towards ends that fit within overall frameworks of optimization. Optimization can narrow the frameworks for civic action in cities  to align with techno-social systems and commercial expectations.  Its undoing promises a more contingent acknowledgement of urban relationships, intelligence and persistence. Undoing these dynamics requires an attention to friction and tension, as well as an attention to the potential other ways of understanding and connecting different forms of knowledge, including the datafied knowledge of sensing systems as well as other ways of knowing.


Bio – Dr Alison Powell

Alison Powell is Associate  Professor in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics. She directs the JUST AI Network: Joining Up Society and Technology for AI, which is supported by the AHRC and the Ada Lovelace Institute. JUST AI creates alternative ethical spaces, practices and orientations towards the issue of data and AI ethics within a broad community of practice. Her empirical research is focused on the ways technology-driven governance influences citizenship, especially in ‘smart cities’.  In addition to her interest in optimization, citizenship and participation, Alison is also interested in just transitions, deep sustainability and radical futures. She is the author of Undoing Optimization: Civic Action and Smart Cities is published by Yale University Press.

Her previous projects include the Horizon 2020-funded VIRT-EU, which examined ways to explore ethics in practice among Internet of Things developer communities and responsible innovation, and Understanding Automated Decisions, which considered the possibility and consequences of explaining how algorithms work. Alison also shares her insights about how people make knowledge about the city through ‘data walking’ – see – and her public writing at