25 June, 2023

New Project - Relational geographies of the urban digital growth machine: Mapping the socio-spatial pathways (DiGiMap)

We are delighted to announce that the Luxembourg National Research Fund granted the AFR PhD project entitled, "Relational geographies of the urban digital growth machine: Mapping the socio-spatial pathways (DiGiMap)"  (Carr, PI). The Urban Studies Group looks forward to being joined by Desmond Bast, (who formerly worked on DIGI-GOV) to take on this project.

Project Summary
DiGiMap seeks out new geographies of what Rosen/León (2022) call “the digital growth machine” (DGM), how it emerges at various spatial scales, and changes contemporary urban realities of planetary urbanization (Brenner/Schmid 2015). DiGiMap is a PhD project that will expose spatial relations constituting new digital infrastructures, networked ‘cyberworlds’ (Kitchin/Dodge 2014) and their socioeconomic compositions. Engaging narrated cartographic illustrations and related qualitative analyses, new understandings of planetary urbanization will be platformed, highlighting irregularities of digital spatial development and the impacts on sociospatial disparities.

Rosen/León (2022) describe the DGM as combining traditional urban growth, spatial commodification patterns with that of digitally mediated accumulation dynamics, revealing increasingly asymmetric logics that shift urban processes to the authority of digital entrepreneurs—affirming work at DGEO that shows how large digital corporations are new ‘power brokers’ in urban development (Carr/Hesse 2022; Bast et al. 2022; Carr et al. 2022). Furthermore, articulating the new geographies of DGMs is urgent against escalating socioeconomic polarization, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change: The search for “socially just and ecologically sound urbanism” (Graham/Marvin 2022: 6), confronting uneven spatial development (Brenner/Schmid 2015) is urgent.

At the same time, Rodriguez-Pose (2018) exposed a disparity between places able to propagate contemporary economic dynamics and those ill-adapted as ‘places left behind’.’ Vetting areas with poor development options, Rodriguez-Pose (2018) reveals the increasing disenfranchisement of ‘places that don’t matter’ that confront a “future offer[ing] no opportunities, no jobs, and no hope” (ibid:. 20). DiGiMap links this concept to DGMs and aims to expose the disparities caused when DMGs concentrate in certain cities spatially, (dis)advantaging social milieux, and generating new geographies of relational cities (Wong et al. 2022). Recent urban inquiry has addressed implications of such escalating digital architectures (Ash et al. 2016). DiGiMap will search out the (social)(Infra)structures that constitute DGM geographies, and expose spatializations of socioeconomic disparities, reforming our understanding of the urban in relation to advancing processes of digitalization:

“..complex geographies of selected connectivity […] need to be the focus of renewed research. Such analyses must address how the resulting infrastructural landscapes both enable and delimit new distanciated configurations […] patterns of urbanization, architectural and geo-political formations, geo-economic divisions of labour, and structures of social and political life” (Graham/Marvin 2022:4)

DiGiMap will search out answers to: What are the emerging socioinfrastructural components of DGMs shaping urbanity? How can DGMs be relationally understood? How do advancing geographies of uneven digital development spawn social inequalities?

Conceptually, DiGiMap draws on Brenner/Schmid’s (2015) planetary urbanization—which rests on Lefebvre’s (1991) concept of a mille feuille—to convey geographies of uneven spatial digital development. While planetary urbanization has invoked broad debate (Oswin 2018), planetary urbanization exposes spatial character/condition of contemporary urbanity, and DiGiMap can articulate the pastry of social spaces that constitute DGMs.

Methodologically, DiGiMap follows Diener et al. (2001) who empirically illustrated the urban mille-feuille by compiling a “thousand leaves” (Brenner 2015)—exposing Swiss (early millennial) infrastructures as relationally and functionally interconnected, with social spatial consequence: All of Switzerland was urban (ibid.) was the exceptional and profoundly influential finding, radically departing from standard knowledges of Swiss urban space, and overcoming the divided and vested interests of urbanists and ruralists. DiGiMap will similarly chart relational and functional interconnections of infrastructure with a reconfigured emphasis on the nuances of contemporary DGMs.

Empirically, DiGiMap will focus on Luxembourg and Zurich, comparable (Carr/Hesse 2022) in terms of economic growth agendas, high degree of internationalisation, patterns of urbanization, and targets of development/maintenance of innovation economies (Luxembourg 2023; Switzerland 2023).

DiGiMap will scope emerging digital infrastructures unfolding at multiple scales across Luxembourg and Zurich, crossplotting subtleties and differentiation between social, economic and political specificities related to digitalization at different spatial scales. By combining and interpreting diverse data, the workflow facilitates an understanding of how physical attributes and features can be linked-to and associated with various geographical features, relations and patterns.

Interviews with stakeholders will help to contextualise mapping, examining how participants view policies/knowledge/values and processes associated with DGMs.


Ash, J., Kitchin, R., Leszczynski, A. (2016) “Digital turn, digital geographies?” Progress in
Human Geography, 42:1, 25-43.
Bast, D., Carr, C., Madron, K., Syrus, AM. (2022) “Four reasons why data centers matter,
five implications of their social spatial distribution, one graphic to visualize them”
Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space.
Brenner, N., Schmid, C. (2015) “Towards a new epistemology of the urban?” City, 19:2-3,
Carr, C. et al. (2022) “Mapping the clouds: The matter of data centers” Journal of Maps
Carr, C. and Hesse, M. (2022) “Technocratic Urban Development: Large Digital Corporations as Power Brokers of the Digital Age” Planning Theory & Practice, 23:3,476-485.
Diener, R., Herzog, J, Meili, M., de Meuron, P., Schmid, C. (2001) “Switzerland - an Urban Portrait.” Birkhäuser, Basel.
Graham, S., Marvin, S. (2022) “Splintering urbanism at 20 and the “Infrastructural Turn”
Journal of Urban Technology, 29:1, 169-175.
Kitchin, R. and Dodge, M. (2014) “Code/space: Software and everyday life.” MIT Press.
Lefebvre, H. (1991) The Production of Space. Blackwell, London.
Luxembourg, Grand Duchy. (2023) “Digital Luxembourg: Initiatives”
https://digital-luxembourg.public.lu/initiatives Accessed Feb. 11, 2023.
Oswin, N. (2018) “Planetary urbanization: A view from outside” Environment and Planning D:
Society and Space, 36:3, 540-546
Rodríguez-Pose, A. (2017) “The revenge of the places that don’t matter (and what to do
about it).” Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 11 (1). pp. 189-209.
Rosen, J. and León, LFA. (2022) “The Digital Growth Machine: Urban Change and the Ideology of Technology” Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 112:8, 2248-2265.
Switzerland, Confederation of. (2023) “Transforming Switzerland into a Leading Digital Nation” https://digitalswitzerland.com/ Accessed Feb 11, 2023.
Wong, C., Hesse, M., Sigler, T. (2022) ‘City-states in relational urbanization: the case of
Luxembourg and Singapore” Urban Geography, 43:4, 501-52

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