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The practices and politics of ‘smart’ infrastructuring: water distribution in Lima, Peru

Student:Fenna Hoefsloot
Timeline:July 2018 - 1 July 2022

As fundament on which the city is built, infrastructure has constantly defined and redefined the development of urban areas and shaped everyday life. It is the silent background that supplies our needs for transactions between people, things and space. Today, infrastructural development is increasingly driven by the wish to become ‘smart’. Dominant narratives about ‘the smart city’ have steered cities all over the world to mimic the image of a high-tech, fully connected, data-driven urbanism. The discourse for becoming ‘smart’ is often accompanied by an assumption that the measurement and monitoring of urban processes will make urban management more efficient and inclusive. As a result, Smart City approaches are characterized by a strong belief that new opportunities for big data and crowdsourced information may create possibilities for more open, complete and democratic data collection.

In the case of Lima, Peru, these expectations are no different. Current redevelopments in the water infrastructure in Lima aim to reduce the unequal pattern of water consumption, water connection and water coverage by introducing a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system and expanding the water distribution system to new neighborhoods. Essentially, SCADA systems entail the implementation of sensors in non-digital technologies which are connected through a software that makes the measurement, registration and monitoring of flows possible. Like other ‘smart’ technologies, these SCADA systems have become increasingly autonomous in that they currently allow for automated interventions to change settings in the system.

Challenging these assumptions, critical scholarship on smart urbanism has extensively researched the implications of the introduction of smart technology and big data for surveillance, the protection of privacy, the representation of people in the data and the flow and possession of data. However, the nexus between urban resource distribution, existing material infrastructure and newly introduced “smart elements” in different places and contexts is still relatively under-researched. Therefore, to avoid creating deep divides within the urban fabric, it is crucial to critically consider who is included or excluded from the knowledge production process, whose needs it services, and what political rationale is embedded in the design and implementation of digital infrastructure. This study will aim to fill that gap by linking the critical debates on the discourse of smart cities to the theory of infrastructuring.

Owning to the complex nature of urban infrastructure, the goal of this project is to analyze how the material, organizational or digital modifications in the water infrastructure mediate the everyday lives of citizens and influence the political landscape. By incorporating insights from feminist studies and political analysis in the literature of infrastructuring, I am approaching the infrastructural network as an arrangement of pipes, water, sensors, people, documents, algorithms, and knowledge that is shaped by contingencies as well as continuities. This allows to reveal how the infrastructural development takes different pathways despite the global narrative of improved efficiency, convenience, and inclusion that digitalization and automatization promise.

Meet the team

F.I. Hoefsloot MSc (Fenna)
Graduate Student
prof.dr. K. Pfeffer (Karin)
Promotor
dr. C. Richter (Christine)
Co-promotor
Research theme
People, Land and Urban Systems

In PLUS research, people are our focus. Everyone is included, from societal thought-leaders, to government policy makers, to high-level civil society advocates – through to entrepreneurs and citizens, including the disenfranchised. These people are our collaborators, our participants, our beneficiaries, our users. PLUS focuses on understanding the spatial information needs of society and responding to those needs in responsible ways – as tools, as systems, as infrastructure, or as ways of thinking. Our work sits at the nexus of urbanization, land tenure, governance, climate change, and transportation – and the grand challenges of sustainability and social equity in the age of the anthropocene.

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