25-26 November 2021

Urban data politics

in times of crisis

Institute of Geography,
University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland

Online Conference with an in-person core

This November, the University of Neuchâtel welcomes you to attend the conference, ‘Urban Data Politics: In Times of Crisis’.

A select panel of speakers will provide a mix of virtual and in-person presentations – all streamed to the Cisco Webex link emailed to registered attendees. The programme below details the presentations and topics covered across the course of two days, November 25th and 26th.

Please note – registration for the conference has now closed.

We look forward to (virtually) welcoming you to Neuchâtel.


It is well established that data is inherently political (Kitchin, 2014). Data have come to play a more important role in the evolving power-geometries (Massey 1993) that characterise contemporary social and political assemblages. At a time where nation states have lost their long-standing (quasi)-monopoly over data (Bigo et al. 2019), there has been a resurgence of interest among civil society organisations and citizens to extract, produce, circulate and politicise the data revolution.

This conference will focus on the relations between urban life and everyday data crises. Indeed, the Covid-19 crisis highlights the impact of data on cities and how entangled urban lives are with data revolution. In this conference we take an expanded understanding of data crises in terms of its everyday manifestations, not just in terms of instances of breakdown such as the pandemic. We take data crises as forms of ‘slow violence’ (Nixon, 2011) that accumulates over time through various forms of everyday and mundane data violence that deny access to urban infrastructure, welfare and services from the state (Guma, 2013). The pandemic crisis, as other critical junctures past and present, works in this context as a heuristic tool. It makes strategies, interests, ‘governance games’ (Meijer, 2018) and functional relations more visible. Crises also tend to accelerate and legitimate the use of data, algorithms and technologies for nefarious means.

The aim of this conference then is to engage with data politics and crises in all its urban expressions – big data, deep data, small data, no data, data scarcity and dataveillance alongside its political and social implications in a context where our ‘data bodies’ (Critical Art Ensemble, 1998) are increasingly the markers of our identities and experiences. In this context, urban life is the terrain where data index phenomena that are close to people’s everyday lives (from emotions to access to basic infrastructures), are contested, can support rights claims, veil or unveil social and political issues. They are criticised for being selective, biased, inexistent or, in contrast, support hopes of empowerment and ‘evidence-based’ policies.

This conference invites contributions on how data politics shape urban life in times of crisis. The intention is to initiate debates that uncover the use of data not limited to ‘born digital’ (Crang, 2015) objects and measures of management. The aim of the conference is to investigate ways of contextualising, archiving and historicising data, provincialising it through its long experiences of colonialism, racism, capitalism, and globalisation in situ. The conference will draw upon its multiple forms to articulate ways through which data can work for those historically excluded from its conceptualisation, collection, manipulation and representation. We will examine the politics of data through its visibility and invisibility, through forms of resistance that emerge from survival, refusal and civil disobedience.

Conference Programme



25 November

Ayona Datta & Ola Söderström
Introduction to the workshop

Rob Kitchin 
Urban data politics: data power, capitalism, ethics and justice

AbdouMaliq Simone
Urban landscapes of feral measures: Making everything and nothing count at the peripheries

Sarah Barns
Radical cities: The city as interface for alternate data futures

Gillian Rose 
Glow and flow: aesthetics as power in urban digital imagery


Ayona Datta & Ola Söderström 
Webinars and War-rooms: Techno-politics of data in shaping COVID19 narratives

26 November

Nancy Odendaal, Evan Blake & Diganta Das Provincialising data power: landings, ruptures and reinventions in South Africa and India.
Rodrigo Firmino & Andres Luque-Ayala
Digital peripheries and techno-driven subaltern urbanisms: An emerging idiom for infrastructural politics and digital activism in the global South

Coffee break

Jonathan Cinnamon
An urban data politics of scale: Lessons from South Africa
Prince Guma
Reconfigurations of the city and the digital under Covid-19 restrictions: Through the lens of delivery platforms in Nairobi
Federico Caprotti
Citizenship, gamification and crisis: seeing through (smart)glass, darkly

Ayona Datta & Ola Söderström
Conclusions and discussion on publication

This conference serves as a capstone event for the Swiss National Science Foundation project,
'Smart Cities: Provincialising the global urban age in India and South Africa’.

The project is a four year international research collaboration between University of Neuchâtel and University College London on Indian and South African smart cities. Through a comparative study of cities in these two Global South countries, this project researches globally circulating urban development narratives around ICT and data-driven urbanism, its ‘mutations’ in different urban contexts and ‘urban hacking’ at the scale of everyday life.

For more information and links to research outputs, please visit the project website.



University of Neuchâtel
Institute of Geography (IGG)
Espace Tilo-Frey 1,
CH-2000 Neuchâtel