SSC Seminar Series: Debra Mackinnon (Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Calgary)

Mundane Surveillance: Tracking Mobile Applications and Urban Accounting in Canadian Business Improvement Areas

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

12:30 - 2:00pm

Mackintosh-Corry Hall D411


In response to splintering streetscapes and in order to remain relevant amidst “smart cities” and “urban big data”, Business Improvement Areas (BIAs) have moved away from clipboards and ledgers, to become early adopters of smarter urban technologies. Initially, BIAs began using social media metrics, pedestrian counters, closed-circuit television and i-beacons to collect data, demonstrate return on investment, and engage in their own corporate storytelling. Increasingly today, BIAs use geospatial applications and platforms to better monitor, manage and control the city and its assets. While much smaller in scope and aim than smart city ventures, these forms of entrepreneurial and platform urbanism are presented as ways of updating and automating BIA practices, making their mandates manageable, and promoting accountability across stakeholders. With seemingly mundane aims, how are these accountability relations enacted on the ground, and what do they do? This research combines extensive document collection, conference ethnography, along with interviews and work-shadowing data in order to trace the mobility and use of geospatial applications and platforms by BIAs in Toronto and Vancouver. Focused on how BIAs created and manage value, and make their mandates doable, I illustrate how these technologies render, (ac)count for, police and govern urban spaces and populations. Cases of the actually existing smart city or ordinary smart city I contend these valuation devices, help transform matters of concern into matters of fact. I argue that these technologies not only make the spaces and materials of the city countable, but by extension, they also hold the users and uses of space to account. Data and the surrounding tellable stories promote relations of visibility and accountability that articulate and delegate work, stabilize knowledge claims and promote ontological politics that strengthens the authority of BIAs over the urban landscape.

About the Speaker:

Debra Mackinnon is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of Calgary. She received her PhD in Sociology from Queen’s University in 2019. Her doctoral dissertation, “Mundane Surveillance: Tracking mobile applications and urban accounting in Canadian Business Improvement Areas” explored how technologies are used to police, account for, render, and manage urban space and populations. Broadly, her research interests include surveillance studies, urban studies, criminology, smart urban environments and IoT technologies, and qualitative methods. Her current work focuses on questions of digital (in)justice, inclusion and governance in smart city partnerships.

Everyone welcome!