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Urbanizing Technology: The Mobility Complex

Led by Professor Saskia Sassen, this signature research project explores the challenges of urbanizing technology and the implications of technological obsolescence for “intelligent” cities. It envisions a trans-disciplinary urbanism that can advance the making of cities by discovering new urban capabilities, and more fully understanding the construction of presence and publicness.

Since 2009, annual conferences have been held to interrogate contemporary urbanism from a multidimensional perspective. Co-organized by the Committee on Global Thought and the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, these conferences and workshops have brought together sociologists, theorists, historians, urbanists, visual artists, choreographers, architects, activists, environmentalists, public health experts, journalists and others. Past events have focused on presence and absence in urban spaces, super-cities and Chinese urbanism, ecological crises, and new forms of war.

In 2014, the conference Mobilities in Cities: From Visible to Invisible explored the need to urbanize technologies from transportation to information technology. The debate around the implementation of technology in cities must take into account environmental and social sustainability, while also recognizing that technology takes on a different shape and meaning in Dubai or Singapore than it does in an impoverished, ungoverned or war-torn urban space.

The exploration of how the technologies of the city facilitate and limit mobility dovetail with Saskia Sassen’s broader work on urban interactivity, empowerment, inclusion, and expulsion. Sassen’s forthcoming volume Expulsions: Brutality and Complexity in the Global Economy (Harvard UP 2014) argues that soaring income inequality, unemployment, imprisonment, displacement and environmental destruction cannot be understood using frameworks of poverty and injustice. Sassen’s work argues that bodies of complex knowledge and technology have evolved into predatory formations, which go beyond a firm or government’s original intentions to produce elementary brutalities and a system of expulsions.

Support for these events and research has been provided by the Audi Urban Future Initiative and the Andrew A. Mellon Foundation.


Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology


School of the Arts
Sociology Department
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