Working group 13: Smart Infrastructure Inhabiting the Smart City


Chair: Zhuo Chen, Ph.D. student in Social Science, University of Helsinki,


As society moves deeper into an information era, the quest for more efficient infrastructures associated with the rise of information technology has popularized the concept of smart infrastructure. The concept has been applied in modern societies’ substrate areas, such as water, electricity, and transport systems, utilizing so-called smart city technology. The smart infrastructure has become an emerging frontier for multidisciplinary research in science and humanities studies, referring to different socio-technical settings. In social science, although there has been some literature engaged with smart infrastructure from a top-down policy-making perspective or at the macro level, only a few have provided account from individual dimension to inquiry what it means for an infrastructure to be smart and how people perceive and live with it in daily life.  

Building on these notions, we seek to identify the technology, materials, and daily life surrounding the smart infrastructure and produce situational knowledge about its socioeconomic and cultural impacts. This working group will continue the line of previous ethnographic researches that approaches infrastructure as complex assemblages and a generative framework generated by complex agents and generates systems, environments, and objects and cultivates individuals and communities (see Larkin 2013, Jensen 2015, Smith & High 2017). We hope to provide contextual knowledge about how people perceive smart infrastructure daily, which supplements its predominant public impression as propaganda and top-down policy. The working group will also help understand how human and non-human, material and non-material factors contribute to forming novel infrastructural systems and how the infrastructures embody the values we want to define our society with an imagined smart future. 


Larkin, Brian. “The politics and poetics of infrastructure.” Annual review of anthropology 42 (2013): 327-343. 

Jensen, Casper Bruun, and Atsuro Morita. “Infrastructures as ontological experiments.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 1 (2015): 81-87. 

Smith, Jessica, and Mette M. High. “Exploring the anthropology of energy: ethnography, energy and ethics.” Energy Research & Social Science 30 (2017): 1-6.