Selling smartness: corporate narratives and the smart city as a sociotechnical imaginary

Jathan Sadowski, Roy Bendor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

202 Citations (Scopus)


This article argues for engaging with the smart city as a sociotechnical imaginary. By conducting a close reading of primary source material produced by the companies IBM and Cisco over a decade of work on smart urbanism, we argue that the smart city imaginary is premised in a particular narrative about urban crises and technological salvation. This narrative serves three main purposes: (1) it fits different ideas and initiatives into a coherent view of smart urbanism, (2) it sells and disseminates this version of smartness, and (3) it crowds out alternative visions and corresponding arrangements of smart urbanism. Furthermore, we argue that IBM and Cisco construct smart urbanism as both a reactionary and visionary force, plotting a model of the near future, but one that largely reflects and reinforces existing sociopolitical systems. We conclude by suggesting that breaking IBM’s and Cisco’s discursive dominance over the smart city imaginary requires us to reimagine what smart urbanism means and create counter-narratives that open up space for alternative values, designs, and models.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)540-563
Number of pages24
JournalScience Technology and Human Values
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • corporate
  • digital technology
  • discourse
  • smart city
  • sociotechnical imaginary

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