Smart Cities as Surveillance Theatre

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In this opinion piece, we challenge the dominating view that surveillance in smart cities is driven by surveillance capitalism alone. Whilst this literature unpicks important factors and trends, we argue that a focus on surveillance capitalism as a sole driver risks ignoring the more intricate realities of surveillance assemblages. They are often propelled by many different desires and power relations (Haggerty and Ericson 2000). We argue for a more nuanced analysis of the drivers instead, taking into account practices in other countries beyond the United States and the United Kingdom. We argue that much of the existent research skews the picture due to inherent bias, and seldom observed drivers are revealed when smart city developments in different countries such as Belgium and Brazil are considered. We suggest that what we call “surveillance theatre,” the performative uses of surveillance that characterize security discourses, is an overlooked yet important driver of smart city development. Such a driver is particularly evident when it comes to security discourses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244-249
Number of pages6
JournalSurveillance & Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 26 Jun 2021


  • surveillance
  • smart cities
  • surveillance theatre
  • Belgium
  • Brazil


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