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Comparative research on India and South Africa


smart cities

This is a three year international research collaboration between University of Neuchâtel and University College London on Indian and South African smart cities. Smart cities as a proposed solution to efficient urban governance has gained traction since 2000 because of the deep involvement of global IT companies, the support of funding programmes from EU, DfID and USAid and the interest of national governments and urban municipalities.


As a consequence, retrofitted smart city ‘packages’ or fully-fledged smart ‘city in a box’ are increasingly making their way into national agendas in the global south. Through a comparative study of smart cities in India and South Africa, this project will research globally circulating urban development narratives around ICT and data-driven urbanism, its ‘mutations’ in different urban contexts and ‘urban hacking’ at the scale of everyday life. The outcomes of the project will thus move beyond a critical stance to provide prosaic visions of smart urbanism that are alternative, empowering and knowledge intensive.

This project begins with the broad hypothesis that the global circulation of smart cities (new cities from scratch and retrofitted) are translated in different global south contexts through local visions, technologies and built manifestations. This will form the basis of developing an empirical and theoretical research agenda around ‘smart urbanism’ that captures the local historical, political and alternative forms of data-driven urbanism from the grassroots. The project has the following aims:

1) To understand how the partnership between state, corporate sector and expert knowledge shapes visions of smart cities in local contexts;

2) To examine how these visions gain social and political credence, restructure local and national policy initiatives and unfold over time;

3) To understand how the smart city vision dis/connects with local urban planning and governance initiatives to refashion the city;

4) To examine how these visions are contested and reworked around the everyday realities of local implementation;

5) To understand the extent to which the actually existing smart city is appropriated, resisted and ‘hacked’ to claim rights to urban space, infrastructure, governance and citizenship.

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