Politics of non-knowing: an update

I spent over a year interviewing activists, policy-makers and innovators involved in collecting data on cycling in the context of smart cities. I have spoken to 80 people in four cities and I am now writing up papers on this research. While there is much to say about what is going on with transformation of cycling and cycling governance with the introduction of new technology, I decide to focus my first paper on an as of yet missing perspective in the smart cities debate.

Many scholars have spoken about politics of knowledge in smart cities – how knowledge that is mobilised for decision-making is exclusive, technocratic and comes with a host of assumptions about cities and their residents. My extensive international fieldwork and data analysis have inspired me to introduce a new concept and a new angle to the debate – politics of non-knowing. Politics of non-knowing is the result of the social construction of a lack of knowledge about something. In other words, it is about how various stakeholders define something as “not yet known” or even “unknowable” and what consequences these definitions have. A very obvious example is climate change. For years mainstream media, politicians and many other powerful stakeholders justified inaction through appealing to uncertainty: “we don’t really know for sure”/”we can’t know” etc. As it clear from this example, appeals to non-knowing can have major consequences as some issues get ignored and others get attention.  In my data I found countless examples and varieties of “non-knowing” and its effects. The idea of the politics of non-knowing as such is not new, I’m drawing on a number of works in defining it, e.g. Beck and Wehling,  but it’s introduction to the debate on smart cities is an original contribution and is supported by data from four cities.

I presented this paper at the expert symposium Beyond Smart Cities Today in Rotterdam on 18 September, 2019, and it gathered considerable interest, including a reaction from prof. Rob Kitchin (Maynooth University) calling it one of the key takeways from the symposium in the closing commentary.

The paper will be available soon. I’m looking forward to sharing it and  I’ll use this website to spread the word as usual.