Smart city, between global circulation and local cultures : For a cultural anthropology of urban uses of digital technology

Event Abu Dhabi

La Fabrique de la Cité will be in Abu Dhabi at the World Urban Forum 2020. 

In the 2000s, smart cities appeared first not only as top-down projects from the private sector, but also as urban models formalized for cities of the North. However, the abundance of “smart” initiatives, projects and (counter) models in the 2010 have contradicted this initial observation – with, for example, the program of 100 smart cities in India; the Chinese proposal for massive digital rollout in the city; or the local development dynamics in Africa using bottom-up participatory platforms. The abundance of digital urban innovations and smart projects leads to interrogating the smart city in light of three major questions that go against the top-down approach and business models formalized in American and European Silicon Valleys.

  1. the importance of national and local cultures;
  2. the global and regional circulation of models;
  3. the specificity of local practices.


  1. Cities are said to be universal but are, in fact, deeply cultural. Beyond world statistics, urban characteristics are difficult to compare from one country to another. In this sense, cities result from specific cultures that determine local development, social interactions, as well as political and economic regimes that influence urbanization. In this context, the smart city also results from local cultures that influence not only its urban and technical formalization but also its adaptation and local translation in the territories.
  2. The importance of the local level leads to an analysis of the circulation of smart city models from two perspectives: the attention to the differentiation of interpretations of the same model by different societies; the ability of different cultures to propose original and unique smart city models. Those two perspectives make circulation and multiple hybridization of digital innovations and smart initiatives more complex.
  3. A sensor is not just a sensor. It is produced by innovation systems that are culturally contextualized, which explains why interoperability of digital technologies is a key issue in the globalization of the smart city model. Moreover, local uses of a sensor vary according to local urban cultures. Therefore, it is important to identify emerging or deviant uses of originally standardized sensors and determine the role of culture in it. Aware that culture has been undervalued for too long in the study of smart cities, La Fabrique de la Cité aims to organize a roundtable that questions the importance of local cultures in the planning of a smart city and the uses of digital innovation.

La Fabrique de la Cité

La Fabrique de la Cité is a think tank dedicated to urban foresight, created by the VINCI group, its sponsor, in 2010. La Fabrique de la Cité acts as a forum where urban stakeholders, whether French or international, collaborate to bring forth new ways of building and rebuilding cities.

Receveznotre newsletter

Stay up to date on our news and projects by subscribing to our monthly publication.

Registration validated! You will soon receive your first number