Smart Labor and the Fantasy Production of Association for Southeast Asian Nations Smart Cities

Nov 9, 2023

05:00 PM - 06:30 PM

Adler Journalism and Mass Communication Building, E105

104 West Washington Street, Iowa City, IA 52240

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A picture of Association for Southeast Asian Nations Smart Cities Networks. It is a map of Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines

What’s so smart about smart cities? In 2018, the Association for Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) launched a program to transform 26 pilot cities in the region to “smart cities,” where services and productivity are enhanced by information and communication technology (ICTs) and new modes of governance. Santos examines these smart cities as assemblages of feminized labor which are digitally extracted and distributed from Southeast Asia-based workers to the Global North. Santos analyze how state and corporate literature on smart cities render as machinic the intimate and reproductive labors of remote teachers, virtual medical assistants, and remote caregivers for the elderly. Meanwhile, against these erasures, digital workers have organized and continue to assert the affective complexity of their labor. Beyond new technologies and modes of governance, Santos propose the concept of smart labor to index the tension between trans-Pacific forms of labor extraction and the emerging capacities and socialities created by digital workers in Southeast Asia. 

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