Making a smart city for the smart grid? The urban material politics of actualising smart electricity networks

Harriet Bulkeley*, Pauline M. McGuirk, Robyn Dowling

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Citations (Scopus)


In a growing debate about the smart city, considerations of the ways in which urban infrastructures and their materialities are being reconfigured and contested remain in the shadows of analyses which have been primarily concerned with the management and flow of digitalisation and big data in pursuit of new logics for economic growth. In this paper, we examine the ways in which the ‘smart city’ is being put to work for different ends and through different means. We argue that the co-constitution of the urban as a site for carbon governance and a place where smart energy systems are developed is leading to novel forms of governmental intervention operating at the conjunction of the grid and the city. We seek to move beyond examining the rationales and discourses of such interventions to engage with the ways in which they are actualised in and through particular urban conditions in order to draw attention to their material politics. In so doing, we argue that the urban is not a mere backdrop to transitions in electricity provision and use but central to its politics, while electricity is also critical to the ways in which we should understand the politics of urbanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1709-1726
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironment and Planning A: Economy and Space
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016


  • actualisation
  • material politics
  • Smart grid
  • urban energy governance
  • urban materiality


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