Three shades of 'urban-digital citizenship': borders, speculation, and logistics in Cape Town

Research output: Journal contributionsJournal articlesResearchpeer-review


Drawing upon case studies from Cape Town, ‘Africa’s smartest city’, this article proposes three theses on ‘urban-digital citizenship’. First, we suggest that urban-digital citizenship is defined by borders which operate: i) at a socio-spatial level, through the unequal distribution of digital infrastructures across the urban space; ii) through the algorithmic techniques of monitoring, profiling, and sorting, which filter access to urban services, mobility, and participation. Our second argument is that urban-digital citizenship is ‘speculative’. The algorithmic infrastructures that have increasingly come to govern urban life operate according to logics of preemption and experimentation that seek to model, and act upon, an array of possible future scenarios. The digitalisation of emergency and security response in Cape Town offers powerful examples of the ways in which urban citizens are caught in a mechanism of machine-learning speculations on future risks and anticipatory interventions. Finally, we propose that digital citizenship has a logistical character. Increasingly, ‘smart’ cities such as Cape Town function as clusters in global circuits of data, technology, and finance. As data centres and tech startups are concentrated in the urban area, urban citizens have become a testbed for new technological products and a crucial node in the geography of cloud computing.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCitizenship Studies
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)247-270
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (Starting Grant Agreement No 716350, dir. Liav Orgad), the National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) On the Move funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation, and the Supporting Principal Investigators grant (SPIN) of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.