The spectrum of control: A social theory of the smart city


  • Jathan Sadowski
  • Frank Pasquale



smart city, surveillance, deleuze, societies of control


There is a certain allure to the idea that cities allow a person to both feel at home and like a stranger in the same place. That one can know the streets and shops, avenues and alleys, while also going days without being recognized. But as elites fill cities with “smart” technologies — turning them into platforms for the “Internet of Things” (IoT): sensors and computation embedded within physical objects that then connect, communicate, and/or transmit information with or between each other through the Internet — there is little escape from a seamless web of surveillance and power. This paper will outline a social theory of the “smart city” by developing our Deleuzian concept of the “spectrum of control.” We present two illustrative examples: biometric surveillance as a form of monitoring, and automated policing as a particularly brutal and exacting form of manipulation. We conclude by offering normative guidelines for governance of the pervasive surveillance and control mechanisms that constitute an emerging critical infrastructure of the “smart city.”

Author Biographies

Jathan Sadowski

Jathan Sadowski is a PhD candidate in the "Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology," in the Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes at Arizona State University. His research mostly focuses on social theory/justice and political economy of information-communication technology. He is currently writing a dissertation on the socio-politics of "smart cities".

Frank Pasquale

Frank Pasquale is a Professor of Law at University of Maryland's Francis King Carey School of Law. His research addresses the challenges posed to information law by rapidly changing technology, particularly in the health care, internet, and finance industries. He recently published the book The Black Box Society: The Secret Algorithms that Control Money and Information (Harvard University Press, 2015), which develops a social theory of reputation, search, and finance. 




How to Cite

Sadowski, J., & Pasquale, F. (2015). The spectrum of control: A social theory of the smart city. First Monday, 20(7).