Digital Geographies

Social control in the networked city: Datafied dividuals, disciplined individuals and powers of assembly

Consciously or unconsciously, urban inhabitants in digitally networked cities leave traces of themselves every time they interact with the digital devices and infrastructures that have become taken-for-granted parts of daily life. There have been lively discussions about the nature of social control and modes of power in such urban contexts. According to some, modulatory mechanisms of power characteristic of the digitally networked city have superseded disciplinary modes of control. This is said to involve the fragmentation of individuals into discrete units of dividual data. We argue that the shift from disciplinary to modulatory control should not be overstated. Rather, disciplinary and modulatory modes of control work together across a spectrum of personhood, from individual to dividual. Understanding the co-existence of, and the relationships between, these two forms of social control is essential for thinking through the urban politics of data and control. Our article illustrates this contention with three vignettes of how the dividualised data associated with discrete digital infrastructures and systems are also being ‘re-assembled’ by various authorities seeking to discipline the behaviour of individuals. It concludes with a discussion of such powers of re-assembly and their critical importance to the politics of control in digitally networked cities.

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Volume 37 Issue 2