Designing Urban Citizenship

  • Gabriele Schliwa

Student thesis: Phd


Innovation initiatives across the globe are currently transforming the spaces, practices and subjects of urban governance. An ever-increasing number has started to mobilise design thinking in the promise of empowering citizens to participate in city making. Design thinking originates from ICT development and gained prominence after the 2008 financial crisis as a process for creative problem-solving. Particularly so-called civic hackathons and innovation labs enthusiastically apply and promote design thinking without questioning the political implications of this trend. Drawing on Michel Foucault's concept of dispositif, my thesis lays the groundwork to understand a global phenomenon within urban scholarship. It conceptualises design thinking as a technology of government within urban computational dispositifs and unpacks its logics and political implications. CycleHack Global Movement, a design thinking initiative that is 'tooling up citizens' to improve cycling in the city through civic hackathon events, serves as an in-depth case study. Mobilising a reflexive methodology, this study is grounded in a total of 18-months of active participation in CycleHack events in Manchester and 4 years of ethnographic study of different urban innovation events. My thesis illustrates how urban innovation initiatives develop quick technological fixes in relation to participants instead of in relation to the city. Driven by an expanding digital and design thinking industry, the active participation of citizens enables the creation of experiential markets through the urban. Design thinking thereby introduces a computational logic into urban politics through which human thought and knowledge production become interoperable with visions and realisations of 'smart' urbanism. Citizen-centred urban development improves customer experiences for people that participate, while political conditions in the city are maintained. In doing so, urban innovation initiatives normalise an operational logic of computational problem-solving as a way of life.
Date of Award1 Aug 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorErik Swyngedouw (Supervisor) & James Evans (Supervisor)


  • politics
  • interoperability
  • smart urbanism
  • civic hacking
  • cycling
  • problem-solving
  • computational dispositif
  • design thinking
  • citizenship
  • governance innovation
  • digital economy
  • urban experience design

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