Dr. Hannah Knox of University College London presents this OWT research seminar.

In this talk I consider what a focus on data can tell us about the management of cities and in particular what it can contribute to our understanding of shifting forms of political agency in the city. This consideration of the role of data in the formation of political agency is in part an intervention into recent debates over who or what are the determinants of contemporary urban experience:  is it structures like capitalism, on the one hand, that shape the city, or complex infrastructural assemblages on the other?

In my talk I will present material from ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted in Manchester, UK, on recent attempts to try and to respond to climate change at a city scale. Understanding what to do in the face of climate change is often a struggle over the verification, validation, and interpretation of different kinds of data, including the production of new forms of data for which there has not previously been a precedent. Specifically, as administrative data and scientific data are set alongside one another in the project of managing the city, we observe a process by which subjects and objects are being reinscribed with new and often unsettling forms of political agency, reshaping the methods and relationships through which city management proceeds.


Hannah Knox is a Lecturer in Digital Anthropology and Material Culture at UCL. Her research looks at the interplay between technology, materiality and social change, and she has conducted fieldwork in the UK, Europe and Peru. Her publications include: Objects and Materials: A Routledge Companion and Roads: An Anthropology of Infrastructure and Expertise (with Penny Harvey). Hannah is currently working on an edited collection: Ethnography for a Data Saturated World, and writing up research on the cultural politics of climate change.

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