Digitization and datafication of public space have a significant impact on how cities are developed, governed, perceived and used. As technological developments are based upon political decisions, which impact people’s everyday lives, and from which not everyone benefits or suffers equally, we argue that ‘the smart city’ should be part of continuous public debate; that it should be considered and treated as a social problem. Through nine focus groups, we invited respondents to explore and discuss instances and dilemmas of the smart city. We investigated which interpretative repertoires they used to frame the smart city as a social and actionable problem. Following Blumer's and Gamson's theories on the social construction of problems and on collective action frames, we assessed respondents’ discursive interpretations and their subjective construction of their senses of injustice, agency and identity regarding this subject. We find that – in the context of the city of Rotterdam in The Netherlands – citizens do not experience and consider the smart city as a social and actionable problem. Although they do associate the technological development of smart cities with potential threats, this does not change or constrain their sense of ‘actionability’, nor their behaviour, as they consider themselves to be powerless individuals regarding what, in their eyes, is a complex, elusive and inevitable situation they are confronted with. Strikingly, rather than specifically and contextually reflecting on smart city issues, respondents tended to express their concerns in the more general context of digital and data technologies invading everyday life.
The authors thank the attendees of the focus groups for their participation and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable
Publisher Copyright: © The Author(s) 2022.