Journal article

From sustainable to smart (Article in Geoforum)

Another of the articles from my thesis is now published in Geoforum.

From sustainable to smart: Re-branding or re-assembling urban energy infrastructure?

The article is sadly locked behind Elsevier’s paywall because the article is not open access. However, I am happy to share the pre-print version:



Visions of sustainable cities have increasingly been substituted by the ambition to become a ‘smart city’ in recent years. Ongoing scholarly discussions often focus on how sustainability and ‘smartness’ relate to each other conceptually, to which extent smart city technologies contribute to making cities more sustainable, and calls to prioritise social issues over technology. The questions of how this ‘shift to smart’ has unfolded, and how it has reshaped strategies and interventions to make cities and their energy infrastructures more sustainable, have however been much less investigated. The aim of this article is to zoom in on the dynamics of such a shift from sustainable to smart. The cities of Malmö and Graz have strong profiles as sustainable cities and have both begun to use smart city branding. We build our analysis on argumentative discourse theory and the concept of socio-material assemblages. Along with a discursive shift from sustainable cities to smart cities, we also observe changes in institutions and socio-material practices. We identify appropriation and colonisation as two dynamics that characterise the relations between assemblages of sustainable and smart cities. We conclude that even when smart city discourses are appropriated by actors in existing sustainable city assemblages, the discursive shift might eventually allow smart city assemblages to colonise existing institutions and socio-material practices. But the shift does not take place through explicit controversy between two discourse coalitions, and it therefore remains important to further investigate the conditions that allow for a change in dynamics from appropriation to colonisation.

Please cite the article as: Parks, D., & Rohracher, H. (2019). From sustainable to smart: Re-branding or re-assembling urban energy infrastructure? Geoforum, 100, 51–59.