Tuesday, 25 October 2016

CfP "Technology and the City" track @ SPT2017

Special Track: Technology and the City @ SPT 2017: The Grammar of Things (Darmstadt, Germany, June 14-17, 2017)

Track organizers:

Call for Abstracts (Deadline: Dec 5, 2016)

Technology is no stranger to the city. Cities are designed, built, maintained, and destroyed by technological means. Technologies shape our cities and are in turn shaped by city life. However, until recently, cities have been given relatively little attention by philosophers of technology.” In line with the overall theme of the conference, we would like to invite papers that reflect on cities, which themselves can be viewed as complex, larger scale technological artifacts made up of various lower level artifacts (e.g., buildings, streets, and parks). While the city can’t be reduced to just material artifacts, we encourage perspectives that explore the material aspect of the city.

Initial work on this theme suggests specific topics, such as overcoming the “urban dualism” (Kingwell 2008) reinforcing the split between public space and the public sphere. We also invite scholars to look into the backstage of the city and explore the political and ethical implications of infrastructures (Easterling 2016). Questions of aesthetics, equity, privacy, and sustainability (to name but a few values) are pertinent to our moral appraisals of cities. Contributions may address these or other issues by looking at the “urban machinery” (Hård and Misa 2008) of communication, energy, industrial, or transportation systems. This, in turn, invites reflections on the methodologies needed to understand the interplay between these technologies, which operate in the background, and the ways in which human beings act in and perceive the world. This can also include critical reflections on how such city infrastructures constitute perceptions and experiences of the natural world (Stefanovic and Scharper 2012).

Finally, we welcome contributions from the perspective of political philosophy on urban justice and urban coexistence (including coexistence with non-human animals). This may include contributions on the role of technology in urban governance as well as contributions on how to govern technological developments in the city.

Further suggested topics are:
  • Ontology of urban technological artifacts
  • Axiological dimensions of urban technological artifacts
  • Interplay between the built environment and human behavior
  • Interplay between built and natural environments
  • The role of infrastructures in city life
  • Transition towards smart environments (ambient intelligence, smart cities)
  • Non-human agency
  • Urban justice and quality of life
  • Dwelling in the city: women, LGBT, minorities, and under-represented groups
  • The politics of enabling and disabling environments
  • Architectural design and social movements, political and artistic interventions
  • Urban coexistence
  • Emotional, corporal, cognitive, and symbolic dimensions of the city
  • Relevant research methodologies or theoretical frameworks
The track is supported by the Philosophy of the City Research Group. Selected contributions of the track will be published in an edited volume on “Cities and technologies” to be published in book series Philosophy of Engineering and Technology (Springer).

Submission of abstracts

Proposals for contributions to this track can be made by sending abstracts of about 350 words by December 5, 2016, via Easychair. Please make sure to submit to the special track “Technology and the City”.

Further information about the SPT conference and its venue can be found at www.philosophie.tu-darmstadt.de/spt2017.


  • Easterling, Keller (2016): Extrastatecraft. London and New York City: Verso.
  • Hård, Mikael, and Thomas J. Misa (2008): Urban machinery: inside modern European cities. MIT Press.
  • Kingwell, Mark (2008): Concrete Reveries: Consciousness and the City. Toronto: Penguin.
  • Stefanovic, Ingrid L., and Stephen B. Scharper (2012): The Natural City: Re-envisioning the Built Environment. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Urban Robotics

From Oct 18-21, 2016, I will be at the Robophilosophy conference in Aarhus (Denmark). I will be part of a workshop on "Responsible Robotics" (co-organized by the Foundation of Responsible Robotics and the 4TU.Ethics Task Force Robotics). I have been working on robotics for a while now. And actually the interplay between robots and the build environment has already been a topic of stimulating discussion during my work on the ETHICBOTS project. To put it a bit point, the question was: Should we build cities for robots or humans? Especially in the context of ETHICBOTS, our basic idea was, that anytime soon robots will leave the factories and we might start to interact with them on a more casual everyday base. Service robots may come to your mind. And, indeed, it was a care giving robot that gave me the idea that we have to think about the interplay between robots and the build environment. The care giving robot in case was meant to enable elderly people to live a more independent life and stay at their homes. The problem: The robot had wheels. Hence, while the robot was marketed as a mobility aid, he was not capable to walk stairs. - This might be a fairly simple and straight forward example, but to me it demonstrates the need to think about the general interplay between the build environment and robots. My interest in robots designed for the urban context, was renewed when I learned about the MX3D bridge. According to the company's web site, this is what the project aims for:
We are going to 3D print a fully functional, intricate steel bridge over water in the center of Amsterdam to showcase our revolutionary technology. MX3D equips industrial multi-axis robots with 3D tools and develops the software to control them. This allows us to 3D print strong, complex and gracious structures out of sustainable material – from large bridges to small parts. We research and develop groundbreaking, cost-effective robotic technology with which we can 3D print beautiful, functional objects in almost any form.
Indeed, it looks like Amsterdam seems to attract robots. I am already curious how the Roboat will change our ideas of urban transportation systems. Of course, not everything is bright and shiny. For example, we may need to discuss, if self-driving cars (robots, by my standards) might actually contribute to urban sprawl. Hence, I think it's about time to start a discussion on the interplay of robotics and cities. You will find the abstract for my talk here. If you have any suggestions about any project, that makes use of robots in an urban context, please me know. And I would be happy to learn, that I am not the only one working on this.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

The city is falling apart

I will be presenting a paper at the Philosophy of the City conference in San Francisco (November 17-19). Titel: The city is falling apart. And here's the abstract:
Ever since Lewis Mumford’s writing, the concern has been voiced, that the (post-)modern city is falling apart. This might be due “urban sprawl” – “unplanned, incremental urban growth” (Batty, Besussi, and Chin, 2003) – or might be attributed to “splittering urbanism” (Graham and Marvin, 2001), whereby (ICT) infrastructures fragment the experience of a city. My talks will consist of two parts. In the first part, I will argue that it is reasonable to consider the city as large-scale, composed artefact, which is made up of different parts (buildings, streets, parks, bridges, canals, etc.). It will be argued, that most reasons for not considering the city as an artefact steam from the conventional use of the term “artefact.” It will not be claimed, that the city can be reduced to the „hard physical space“ (Stevenson, 2013) or what has been called the „physical city“ by David R. Goldfield in his paper on „The Physical City as Artifact and Teaching Tool“ (1975). But it will be argued, that the idea of “the city as an artefact” offers a reasonable perspective on the city. In the second part of my paper, I will turn towards the question how the things that make up a city hang together – and how a city may fall apart. Here, I will explore Warwick Fox’s notion of responsive cohesion as a relational quality of things that stick together. As it has been suggested by Radford (2010) that Fox’s framework is helpful in addressing issues like urban sprawl, I will use the concept to gain a better understanding of how the city may fall apart. Finally, I will present first considerations of what it might take to design to maintain and promote responsive cohesion on the level of individual artefacts (e.g., buildings) and technologies (e.g., new means of transportation).

Monday, 27 June 2016

Ethicomp/CEPE 2017 – Call for papers

The Ethicomp and CEPE communities opened up a call for papers for their joint conference on the values involved in the ethical use of computer and information technology. One of the tracks of the conference is “ICT and the City”. Fundamental in the vision of the “Smart City” is the promised improvement of various elements of urban governance through operating systems based on data and information. It is important to include in this discussion the specific needs of cities and various city users in order to develop the Smart City with the best interest of citizens at heart. For the papers of the Ethicomp/CEPE 2017 conference for the “ICT and the City”-track, authors are invited to ask, “What makes a good city?” and “How can ICTs contribute to uphold and promote the desirable aspects of city life?”

For more information about the “ICT and the City” track, follow this link:
Or email Michael Nagenborg: m.h.nagenborg@utwente.nl

For more information about the conference, dates and the other tracks, follow this link:

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Things, buildings, and cities - My talk at ISPA conference 2016

I am very pleased to give a talk at the 3rd International Conference of the International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture. The conference will be held in Bamberg (Germany, July 20-23). Here's the abstract of my talk:
Buildings are frequently regarded as artifacts. While they do not fall in the narrow understanding of artifacts as „simple, hand-made objects which represent a particular culture“ (Hipline 2011), they obviously qualify as human-made objects. My paper will consist of two parts. In the first paper, I will argue that it is reasonable to consider cities as artifacts. More precisely, on a certain level of abstraction a city can be understood as a complex artifact made up from lower level artifacts including buildings. In the second part, I will start to explore the implications of the idea that things (in the sense of: individual artifacts in common understanding), buildings, and cities can be considered as artifacts with regards to the validity of knowledge transfer between the Philosophy of Design / Technology (‚things‘), the Philosophy of Architecture (‚buildings‘) and the Philosophy of the City. Especially by Philosophers of Technology seem to be tempted to transfer insights about (technological) artefacts from their field to the field of Philosophy of Architecture and Philosophy of the City (e.g., Borgmann 2006, Dorrestijn & Verbeek 2013). I will use the challenges presented to larger scale artefacts to the mediation theory (Verbeek 2011) as an example to initiate a discussion on why and how size matters. Verbeek’s approach has been chosen as an example, because of the specific emphasis given to human expirience in the framework.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

The haunting of cities

While Mark Fisher’s Ghosts of My Life: Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Futures (2014) did not meet all of my expectations (but that might be due to my misplaced expectations), I enjoyed reading his introduction to Laura Oldfield’s Savage Messiah (2011). Fisher reminds us that the
„...struggle over space is also a struggle over time and who controls it. Resist neoliberal modernisation and (so we are told) you consign yourself to the past. … .Capital demands that we always look busy, even if there’s no work to do. If neoliberalism’s magical voluntarism is to be believed, there are always opportunities to be chased or created; any time not spent hustling and hassling is time wasted. The whole city is forced into a gigantic simulation of activity, a fanaticism of productivism in which nothing much is actually produced, an economy made out of hot air and bland delirium. Savage Messiah is about another kind of delirium: the releasing of the pressure to be yourself, the slow unravelling of biopolitical identity, a depersonalised journey out to the erotic city that exists alongside the business city. The eroticism here is not primarily to do with sexuality, although it sometimes includes it: it is an art of collective enjoyment, in which a world beyond work can – however briefly –be glimpsed and grasped. Fugitive time, lost afternoons, conversations that dilate and drift like smoke, walks that have no particular direction and go on for hours, free parties in old industrial spaces, still reverberating days later.“
The idea of „a spectral city“, „a London haunted by traces and remnants of rave, anarcho-punk scenes and hybrid subcultures at a time when all these incongruous urban regeneration schemes were happening“, strongly resonates with my own curiosity about how the past shapes our contemporary lifes in a city. To be more precise: I am wondering, if and how our lifes leave traces in the urban environments - and if and how cities could be understood as places of transmission (Debray). Is the haunting of cities something that is rooted in the (digital) memories? Or is it the atmosphere of a city (Boehme), which haunts us? To stay with the current example: Is it the explicit and shared knowledge about the past in Savage Messiah, which creates the past? Or are documents like Savage Messiah just articulations of something, which exists independently from memories made explicit?

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Is crowdsourcing a form of participatory governance?

Peter Moskowitz’s Crowdfunding is evil for public goods raises an interesting question about the limits of participatory urban governance. From a philosophically informed perspective, I found it striking and worrisome that we can now see crowdsourcing projects for infrastructure projects (e.g., for maintaining roads). After all, even traditional liberal authors like Kant saw it as the duty of the state to take care of the basic infrastructure: „Build good roads, mint sound money, give us laws for exchanging money readily, etc.; but as for the rest, leave us alone!” (Kant, Conflict of Faculties)