18 July, 2023

New Project: "Digital urban futures - Urban reconstruction efforts in the headquarter City of Kyiv and the role of emerging tech-ecosystems (RE-DIGICITY)"

We are delighted to announce that Dr. Olga Kryvets was awarded a Marie Curie grant from the MSCA4Ukraine Fellowship Scheme under the supervision of Constance Carr.

Project Description

RE-DIGICITY will examine the tech-ecosystem in the City of Kyiv, an East-European headquarter city subject to multiple urban reconstruction efforts in response to authoritarian aggression. RE-DIGICITY aims to understand and explain how tech enterprises both big and small shape reconstruction efforts and contribute to multiple digital urban futures.

RE-DIGICITY is an extension to work (KYIV-DIGIURB) commenced at DGEO, exploring how large digital corporations such as Amazon or Google were involved in reconstruction and resilience in Kyiv. This work built on Carr’s (2021) project, entitled “Digital Urban Development - How large digital corporations shape the field of urban governance (DIGI-GOV).” Funded by the Luxembourg National Research Fund, DIGI-GOV examines the role of large digital corporations in digital urban development in Toronto, Seattle, Washington DC, Luxembourg and Amsterdam (Carr/Hesse 2020, 2022; Bast/Carr/Madron/Syrus 2022; Carr/Bast/Madron/Syrus 2022). RE-DIGICITY expands the horizon to include Microsoft and Samsung as well as smaller enterprises, which together constitute an emerging tech-ecosystem in Kyiv. RE-DIGICITY thus offers fresh insight into processes of urban digitalization (Ash/Kitchin/Leszcznski 2016; Karvonen/Cook/Harstaad 2020) looking at how tech-ecosystems affect digital urban futures in an East-European headquarter city (Gnatiuk/Kryvets 2018; Mykhnenko 2020) undergoing post-disaster reconstruction. RE-DIGICITY is thus a chance to call attention to the ways that contemporary digital cities are (re)constructed and (re)planned. 
Reconstruction and Digital Futures
The invasion, “caused an avalanche of civilian casualties and a large-scale destruction of civilian infrastructure, while Ukraine’s forced displacement and humanitarian needs continue to grow exponentially” (Mykhnenko/Delahaye/Mehdi 2022: 714). Despite ongoing destruction, in June 2022, the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories of Ukraine (MTOTU) (2022) approved the ‘Transition Period Policy’ to begin reconstruction. Around this time too, Amazon, Google and Microsoft were awarded for their efforts in reinforcing Ukraine’s digital infrastructures/services (Nolan 2022). From pie-in-the-sky dreams of Eurovision 2023 in Mariupol, to dreams of modernized urban infrastructures/services (Hay et al. 2022), to immediate needs of clean water, medical supplies, and critical infrastructure (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) 2022), reconstruction in Ukraine was operating at various temporal and spatial scales, through a multitude of narratives responding to different imaginaries. Just as Paidakaki/Moulaert (2017) viewed resilience as granular, so too was the character of reconstruction and the multitude of coeval resilience agendas in Ukraine. It was “a highly political, continuously changing, socially transformative process,” (ibid. 2017: 4). RE-DIGIGOV explores these in relation to coeval efforts at urban digitalization.

An Eastern Headquarter City
Kyiv, the capital city and most economically prosperous area of Ukraine (Mykhnenko 2020), is recognized as Ukraine’s corporate centre, home to older oil, coal and steel production firms, and since the 1990s, home to more and more firms in finance. Recently, a number of international IT firms have also settled, solidifying new economic sectors and growth in the City and country—which, further, are components of wider processes of neoliberalization in the post-socialist, post-industrial city (Gnatiuk/Kryvets 2018; Gnatiuk/Melnychuk 2022; Havryliuk/Gnatiuk/Mezentsev 2021).Today, Kyiv’s IT sector has a broad inventory, and these tech-ecosystems signify the strengthening of new business sectors in a post-socialist, neoliberal economy, and the delivery of a new digital urbanism in Kyiv, a ‘relational’ (Wong/Hesse/Sigler 2022) headquarter city. 

Research Questions
RE-DIGICITY addresses research questions operationalized across three domains: i. reconstruction and digital urban futures; ii. relational headquarter cities; iii) tech-ecosystems in conditions of authoritarian aggression.

RE-DIGICITY’s methodological approach inspired by the processuality of urbanization (Carr/Hesse 2020), ‘interpretative institutionalism’ (Bevir/Rhodes 2006), and urban relationality (Wong/Hesse/Sigler 2022). First, understanding the complexities of urban tech-ecosystems in the context of urban reconstruction requires an examination of the processuality of urbanization. This approach has roots in urban political ecology and focusses on social productive processes because “‘the urban’ is a complex, multiscale and multidimensional process where the general and specific aspects of the human condition meet,” (Keil 2003, 725). Further, a qualitative approach respecting processes uncovers the “thick and rich description of the discourses” (Kenis 2019, 836).

Second, a qualitative approach can assess how institutions are shaped, emphasizing the rationale, background conditions, and justifications that inform decision-making processes, to explain why people/institutions behave as they do. The interpretive institutionalism approach developed by Bevir and Rhodes (2006) provides such tools to generate insight.

Third, by examining Kyiv as a headquarter city, RE-DIGICITY draws on the relational approach rooted in scholarly debates about urban comparison that expose how cities are interconnected and constitute one another (Robinson 2011). In this approach, urban spaces are not bounded territories, but conduits of connection and productive processes that reach and extend beyond specific territories (Uitermark et al. 2012). In this vein, RE-DIGICITY is inspired by Wong et al. (2022) who argued that a city’s positionality in international flows, “is derived from mediating between regionally and globally scaled processes” (Wong/Hesse/Siger 2022: 502): Kyiv’s headquarter strategy can also be conceived of as a “niche center of corporate domiciling” (ibid.: 503).

The conceptual approach translates into a rigorous survey of secondary sources, including media reports, government documentation, videos documentation, and more. The goal is to obtain an overview of the scope and volume of the discourse.  Narratives drawn from follow-up interviews can then be triangulated against the written discourse, to achieve a deeper understanding of discourses, conflicts, and positions. 

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