Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Symposium "Politics & technologies of the city" at OZSW conference 2018

OZSW conference 2018

The annual conference of the Dutch Research School for Philosophy (OZSW) will be held at the University of Twente on November 9 and 10, 2018. The conference will feature a symposium on "Politics & technologies of the city," which I have co-organised and will chair.

About the symposium

While the 21stcentury has been named the century of the city until very recently the city has remained an under-researched subject within Philosophy. More preciously, since the rise of the modern nation-state, political philosophy became more interested in states and the interplay between states. Within Philosophy of Technology, too, the city hasn’t become a dedicated subject of its own rights. Only recently, philosophers started to pay close attention to (a) the shifting role of cities as political actors and (b) the vision of the “smart city.”

In our symposium, we will combine contributions from Political Philosophy and Philosophy of Technology to stimulate a discussion about urban politics and the role of technology in the lives of urban dwellers.

What is the Point of “Urban Justice”? - Access to Human Space

Author: Bart van Leeuwen (Radboud University, The Netherlands)

For some time now, the philosophical reflection on the meaning of social justice has broadened its scope from the domestic realm to the global realm. Global justice theory is timely, given the process of neo-liberal globalization, a widening of the global income gap and the fact that political philosophy traditionally has been focusing on the nation-state. However, the process of globalization also developed into a different direction: it went hand in hand with devolution, urbanization and the formation of global or world cities. A number of recent books written by social scientists acknowledge this by dealing with social justice on the level of a societal unit very different than the global or the national one, much closer to our life worlds and also more of less disregarded by mainstream political philosophy, namely the city (Brenner, Marcuse and Mayer, 2012; Dikeç, 2007; Fainstein, 2010; Harvey, 2009; Marcuse et al, 2009; Mitchell, 2003, Soja, 2010). Amongst the themes discussed here are: neoliberal-capitalist displacement and dispossession, gentrification, a reliance on market processes and an obsession with economic growth, the disregarding of the rights of homeless people, lack of citizen input, lack of tax base sharing (esp. in the US), lack of affordable housing, lack of public services in certain quarters, social and ethnic segregation and so on.
The recent publications in which these theme’s figure suggest that “the city” is indeed a relevant unit of social justice.
The main question that I want to explore in this paper is how these themes and questions should be framed theoretically. Do these recent books show or indicate that conceptual innovation is needed here — do we need an urban theory of justice — or is it a matter of applying existing theories of social justice to the urban context and if so, which kind of theory would be most appropriate?
First we will explore the question to what extent urban justice simply is a function of the aggregate level of state justice. Before we think about the contours of a theory of urban justice, we first have to be clear about the kind of normative questions that are related to the urban frame (§ 2). Next we will home in on the more substantial question of the paper, namely what kind of theory would be most fitting. After outlining some shortcomings of two existing approaches to urban justice (§ 3), I will argue in favor of a recognition-theoretical approach to urban justice. This approach to the just city is promising because it allows the articulation of a conception of human space. Human space is a normative conception of space that is structured by different patterns of recognition, namely care, respect and esteem, and that is embodied both by physical structures, institutions and intersubjective relations between individuals and groups (§ 4). This approach might be promising, but it does not produce ready-made answers to the central moral challenges of cities today such as segregation, gentrification and homelessness. What can be shown, however, is that it is able to articulate what is at stake in these challenges from the moral-political point of view (§ 5).

Infrastructures as Structuring Practices

Building on Sartre´s concept of praxis, I will address the question, how do large scale human-technology ensembles structure the conscious and unconscious actualization of human praxis?
In his “Critique of Dialectical Reason,” Sartre emphasizes the dialectical relationship between human beings and world. For the later Sartre, praxis is a transformative process in which human beings satisfy their needs and serve their interests by changing the material or mental conditions they are situated in as human beings in order to preserve their future selves. But these needs and interests themselves only become obvious because they are products of close interactions with material and/or mental conditions. The most important aspect for Sartre is, that human beings change their material conditions in such a way, that the world itself becomes the passive residue of these very needs and of the strategies that were employed in order to satisfy them.
This concept of praxis can help to understand the intricacies of human-technology relations. Since Sartre considers praxis to be a transformative act in which human beings materialize their ends in the world, he also considers technical artifacts to be such frozen and materialized ends of praxis as well. Technologies play a major role in this process since they mediate material conditions and needs in a very specific way. As means, technical artifacts open up different practical fields. A practical field is a set of possible practical interactions, that is mediated as such under material or immaterial conditions and future ends. But since technical artifacts are considered to be materialized ends, their employment changes the way the transformative praxis is actualized.
Sartre believes that alongside every praxis a form of habituation takes place through which successful strategies and utilizations of technical artifacts are passed on through time. Every success or failure leads to rules and norms which are again materialized in the way further praxis is actualized through technical artifacts. Sartre calls this form of habituation hexis, greek for disposition. In this hexis not only strategies but also norms and moral values are preserved.
Sartre’s thoughts may not only be employed for individual technical artifacts but also for large technical systems like infrastructures. Considering the role of infrastructures as lifelines of society, they can be regarded passive residues of human needs. They constantly provide users and experts with past decisions and strategies. Sometimes old structures under cities influence the way modern cities have to be planned and built. Infrastructures not only do this because they are fortified structures but because their design provides specific ways of how planning and building praxis can be actualized.

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace: Liberal Democracy and the Smart City

Author: Ryan Mitchell Wittingslow (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, NL)

In his poem, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”, Richard Brautigan proposes governance by machines. Instead of democracy, he writes, we will have a “cybernetic ecology” where animals and computer co-exist in “mutually programming harmony”. The cost of this service is but a small thing. We need only offer our liberty to Brautigan’s titular “machines of loving grace”.
Although it’s been a long time since 1967, the utopian impulse that the poem articulates—the notion that we will be fitter, happier, and more productive if we allow ourselves to be administered by intelligent machines—remains compelling. Within the domain of urban design and planning, this impulse has recently expressed itself in a suite of proposals concerning what is called the “smart city”: that is, using information and communication technologies to autonomously manage municipal systems with the aid of sensors and actuators managed by artificial intelligences. Pilot programs are already underway in a number of Dutch cities, including Eindhoven, Utrecht, and Assen.
At least among philosophers, some of the flaws inherent in this view are well known. Machine learning algorithms possess politics just like any other artefact. The mere fact that these algorithms demonstrate some degree of autonomy by no means implies that they do not inherit the cultural and epistemic biases of their creators and users. There are, however, other concerns associated with optimising the panopticon. To that end, I will argue three things.
First, I will argue that liberal democracy is inherently, and necessarily, both slow and inefficient. This inefficiency is not a flaw. While the collectivist nature of liberal democracy means that decisions are almost always rendered less quickly than in authoritarian forms of rule, this very slowness helps guarantee that new policies and new behaviours are given sufficient deliberative scrutiny. It is upon these profoundly inefficient deliberative and aggregative procedures that the legitimacy of liberal democratic systems is premised.
Second, I will argue that the introduction of smart systems into liberal democracies threatens the integrity of these procedural norms. Although the use of artificial intelligences to swiftly and opaquely replace deliberative decision-making processes could produce positive outcomes in certain domains, it also directly compromises the necessarily slow, methodical, and dull processes that typify liberal democratic governance. This, I argue, poses an indirect challenge to the legitimacy of both democratic decision-making and the legitimacy of the institutions that help constitute that decision-making process.
Third and finally I will argue that the predictive nature of smart systems abrades uncomfortably against liberal democratic justitial norms such as the presumption of innocence, freedom of will, and notions of human dignity. Furthermore, decision-making artificial intelligences themselves pose a challenge to the rule of law, in that they cannot be subject to the laws they enforce. This, I claim, poses a profound challenge to the legal and political achievements upon which liberal democracy is premised.