Toads, Dome, and Lampposts
: An Ethnographic Study of a Smart City in the Making

  • Jingwen Yin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Abstract

This thesis is an ethnography of the making of a smart city initiative called Open Programmable Harbour City (OPHC). The aim of OPHC is to build a programmable testbed to enable everyone to experiment with their smart city applications. This original research aims to address three gaps in the current smart cities literature. It first seeks to understand the actual innovation processes of this smart city initiative. It then takes a unique angle to investigate the roles of vision in the innovation processes. It also focuses on citizen participation in the OPHC project. In order to interpret the data, the research went through an iterative-inductive process to assemble a theoretical framework. This framework draws on conceptual tools from two intellectual sources: Transition Studies (the socio-technical perspective) and the Sociology of Expectation. The researcher conducted 49 main participant observations in and beyond Harbour City; 24 formal interviews and 19 key informal interviews over 17 months to collect data.

The data reveals three stages (emergence, implementation, and diffusion) in the innovation process of OPHC. The results show that OPHC did not emerge in a vacuum. Instead, it is a configuration of people, artefacts, and expectations that survived in the selection environment at the niche level. This configuration was relabelled as a smart city project. At the local level, the implementation of OPHC was formed of loosely coordinated parallel niche experimentations. At the global level, the diffusion of OPHC was mainly about spreading its vision. The diffusion produced some dynamic results in both vertical and horizontal directions. Apart from understanding the mechanisms of the innovation process, this research also pays attention to roles of citizens and vision in the innovation process. It suggested that citizens had a limited role in making smart cities. The vision plays dynamics and sometime paradoxical roles in the innovation process. Overall, the thesis makes both empirical and theoretical contributions to current smart cities literature, and open many doors for future explorations.
Date of Award25 Sep 2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorThomas S D Osborne (Supervisor) & Keri Facer (Supervisor)

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