Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
There has been a resurgence in enthusiasm surrounding data-driven technology and data itself to govern bodies, borders, and resources. While this is in part owed to new data literacies and technological capabilities (i.e. predictive analytics), the shifting role of the city also encourages a dependence on administering through data technology. Cities across the globe are increasingly deindustrialized as private industry is no longer geographically anchored. Additionally, the retraction of federal welfare and diminishing public support for local governance has limited the means of both city and state, at least in the US context. Lastly—via the burgeoning global economy of speculative real estate—a notion of city-as-product arises, where investibability at a global scale, rather than geospatial boundaries, become the core object of governance. Here, new kinds of contradictory (and frequently violent) logics arise: cities both own the responsibility to care for those most in need without the resources to adequately do so. At the same time, the city is charged with becoming “investible,” e.g. competing to host corporate entities like Amazon. Becoming investible involves technological innovation while containing the undesirable aspects of urban tapestries (crime, etc.). This contradictory position opens public administration to private industry “solutions,” which are provided freely in exchange for citizen data. Drawing on two years of ethnographic fieldwork with a major US West Cast city data office, this paper details the ways in which being investible while providing for vulnerable citizens achieves a kind of psychic fracturing for both citizens and civil servants.