Accepted paper:

Smartness from Below - Deconstructing 'the Smart City' - Ethnographic Notes from Kinshasa


Katrien Pype (KU Leuven University)

Paper short abstract:

I attempt to counter the ethnocentric assumptions of being smart in the city by paying attention to vernaculars about 'being smart' in Kinshasa. In order to understand how people, anywhere, live with technology, we need to remain open to the polysemy of technology, innovation, and creativity.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper, I propose to explore the social contours of technological creativity through the rubric of "smartness", a concept intimately tied to innovation. What does it mean to be "smart" in Kinshasa? Who is smart? And who is not? How does mastery over entering technologies relate to local repertoires of authority, power, and prestige? I thus attempt to unsettle the ethnocentric assumptions of "being smart in the city". By focusing on practices on Kinshasa's streets, in households, markets, and hotels, I show how Kinois engage with technologies, how they combine various registers of expertise and creativity, and how these in turn combine to produce variegated ways of "being smart in the city". The paper is a methodological and epistemological experiment in which I call for attention for semantic, social, and technological complexity, irreducible to one single form or meaning. The (scientific) challenge is to remain attentive to the polysemy of technology, innovation, and creativity, as well as the contiguity of meanings, practices, and experts.

panel P130
Urban technologies and technologies of urbanity in Africa