The Universal Factory

Data Production and Platforms


  • Kevin Rogan
    Independent researcher
November 2, 2019


Critical data studies have made great strides in bringing together data analysts and urban design, providing an extensible concept which is useful in visualizing the role of local and planetary data networks. But in the light of the experience of Sidewalk Labs, critical data studies need a further push. As smart cities, algorithmic urbanisms, and sensorial regimes inch closer and closer to reality, critical data studies remain woefully blind to economic and political issues. Data remains undertheorized for its economic content as a commodity, and the political ramifications of the data assemblages remain locked in a proto-political schema of good and bad uses of this vast network of data collection, analysis, research, and organization. This paper attempts to subject critical data studies to a rigorous critique by deepening its relationship to the history thus far of Sidewalk Labs' project in Quayside, Toronto. It is broken into sections. The first section discusses the material reality of Kitchin and Lauriault's (2014) data assemblages and data landscapes. The second section investigates data itself and what its ‘inherent' value means in an economic sense. The third section looks at the way the understanding of data promoted by the data assemblage effects smart city design. The fourth section examines the role of the designer in shepherding this vision, and moreover the data assemblage, into existence.