Subprojects | Project Area B | Spaces of Digital Mediatisation

Smart People: Queer Everyday Life in Digitalized Spaces

In the first funding period, we investigated the refiguration of spaces in the context of South Korea’s smart city Songdo as large-scale real estate project. It could be shown that social tensions between locally rooted family values and an orientation towards the globalized market economy, which underlie much of the city’s everyday practices, are mediated by homogenous housing typologies as well as an extensive digitalization concept geared towards the interests of the Korean middle class. Given the obvious way in which South Korea’s smart city developments bolster nuclear family structures and leave aside social, cultural and ethnic differences, the second funding period will focus on the refiguration of spaces in highly digitalized South Korea specifically in relation to conflictual sociocultural placements. Since the 1990s, South Korea’s planning culture has increasingly attracted public criticism resulting in the formation of social movements calling for participatory modes of planning, greater ecological sustainability and a sensitive approach to renewal. South Korea has, moreover, witnessed a diversification of lifestyles, particularly in metropolitan regions. Especially the increased public visibility of LGBTIQ+ can be seen as unsettling the heteronormative and familial structures of South Korean society.

The project will analyze digitalized, mediatized (inter)actions and practices in the context of queer subcultures and urban social movements. Data on the smart city project gathered during the first funding period will be put in relation to subcultural placements of queer and urban development movements in order for the CRC to gain a deeper insight into the emergence of multiple spatialities and processes of spatial refiguration in South Korea. A central research question will be: Which spatial figures are linked, relationally and dynamically, to what kind of of spatial logics, and what is the role of digitalization in these contexts? To this end, we have defined three work packages for analysis – 1. ethnographic field work focusing on spatial strategies of LGBTIQ+ communities in the greater Seoul area; 2. secondary analyses of interviews with Korean inhabitants of Songdo exploring social constructions of othering; and 3. expert interviews with key actors of urban social movements on conflictual productions of space.


Phase 1 (2018-2021)

Smart Cities: Everyday Life in Digitalized Spaces

If urbanization became a hallmark of modernity, then the mediatization of our cities through the ever thicker web of artificial intelligence stands for the late modern transformation. Today the so-called “smart cities” emerge not only via digitalization of existing urban structures but are being built from scratch to integrate the virtual and the real in a way that blurs the traditional boundary between them. In other words, everyday practices and actual cityscapes become ‘augmented’ by a myriad of virtual potentialities. These urban spaces are nowadays being profoundly refigured and with them many human forms of sociability. This ‘refiguration’ literally breaks new ground in places such as the city of Songdo in South Korea. At the same time, it rekindles old modern binary discourses of utopian salvation and dystopian danger. Our project aims not only to document and explain the resulting changes but also to transcend that binary coding. The goal is to work out a rigorous vocabulary in which we can describe in detail how these changes refigure space and time. In order to do that a robust ethnographic approach is needed. Hitherto the scholarly attention prioritized political economy of smart cities, seeing them as reflecting epochal top-down transformations in technology and economy. But once built and populated, cities evince ‘their own logic’ too, one based on a series of contextspecific appropriations of generic technical solutions. This requires to see them as actively inflecting social reality. Combining sociological and architectural approaches to urban planning and city life, our team addresses how ‘smart’ urban life actualizes itself and why it matters.

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