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Appropriating “Big Data”: Exploring the Emancipatory Potential of the Data Strategies of Civil Society Organizations in Cape Town, South Africa

The Right to the Smart City

ISBN: 978-1-78769-140-7, eISBN: 978-1-78769-139-1

Publication date: 7 June 2019


The smart city strategies of municipalities in South Africa have been grounded in developmentalism, seeking to harness the power of technology to enable improved governance. Cities such as Durban and Cape Town have embraced infrastructure-led approaches that seek to use state-mediated broadband “backbone” development to enable last-mile ICT access to marginalized communities. With the advent of big data, the range of actors in the ICT-local government terrain has broadened to include partnerships with IT-multinationals and management consultants to streamline municipal bureaucratic procedures, enable data processing, and contribute to greater efficiency. An important driver is the increasingly urgent need to accelerate the delivery of essential services while also encouraging investment and development through greater efficacy (e.g., in processing development applications). A “dashboard urbanism” is becoming evident that fits well with the system of indicators and performance monitoring that is embedded in the managerial South Africa’s local government system. The danger of an overreliance on these quantitative aspects is that it may perpetuate divides in what is considered to be one of the most unequal cities in the world. Based on exploratory research, this chapter explores strategies used by civil society organizations to challenge the assumptions of “dashboard urbanism” and contribute a more rounded appropriation of big data and a deepened and contextualized urban experience.




The initial version of this chapter was presented, upon invitation, at the workshop on “The right to the smart city: Citizenship, civic participation, urban commons and co-creation,” in Maynooth, September 2017. Funding and editorial assistance in enabling this interaction and subsequent refinements of this chapter are highlight appreciated.


Odendaal, N. (2019), "Appropriating “Big Data”: Exploring the Emancipatory Potential of the Data Strategies of Civil Society Organizations in Cape Town, South Africa", Cardullo, P., Di Feliciantonio, C. and Kitchin, R. (Ed.) The Right to the Smart City, Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 165-176.



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