In the spotlight: Isa Sanchez Cecilia

Isa Sanchez Cecilia. A picture of a smiling young women wearing a leather jacket. She has brown hair, glasses and a nose piercing and is standing in nature. Isa Sanchez Cecilia is a junior lecturer at the Department of Public Administration and Sociology at Erasmus University Rotterdam, where she teaches courses in the bachelor programmes MISOC (Management of International Social Challenges), Sociology and Public Administration and in the master programme Social Inequalities. She also works as a research assistant. Next to that, she is active in improving the working conditions for junior lecturers at the university.


Can you tell me more about your academic background and expertise?

I started studying social work and social education in Spain – where I am from – and there I had this course by this wonderful sociology professor; he really became like a mentor to me. He inspired me to study sociology. During my sociology bachelor, I did an exchange in Den Haag and then stayed. After a couple of years of working, I wanted to go back to academia and applied to the master Governance of Migration and Diversity, initially at Leiden University at the history track. But after a couple of months, I realized: ‘I’m no historian, I’m a sociologist!’ So the next academic year, I switched to Erasmus University to follow the sociology track. Currently, I am a junior lecturer at the Department of Public Administration and Sociology and also work as a research assistant with dr. Thomas Swerts and dr. Jess Bier. In the future, I would like to do a PhD.

What research project are you currently working on?

With Thomas and Jess, I work on the Team Science project on Urban Digital Twins. My job is to conduct interviews with the people working on the Digital Twin at the municipality of Rotterdam. We are interested in finding out how they are thinking about their urban digital twin, how they are wanting to design and implement it. It is such an interesting project because you get analyse something that is not there yet, but that so many people are already working on and projecting their different ideas on. And there are so many open questions. We are going to have a metaverse of the city – why? For what purpose? How does it work? It is a whole new world for me and fascinating to dive into.

You really notice that this is an interdisciplinary research team."

Being able to work with Thomas and Jess but also the rest of our team in the Hague and in Delft has been great. You really notice that this is an interdisciplinary research team – and I think that this makes this project a lot richer.

I think of myself as an interdisciplinary person – and you become that by studying social sciences because you get exposed to so many different disciplines. That also came back in my master programme, for example, which was a joint degree between history, sociology, public administration, urban studies and development studies.


What do you find most interesting about the research you do for the Centre for BOLD Cities?

I am usually more focused on a different spectrum of social inequalities, you could call it the more relational or structural aspects, that are directly connected to people. But through this project, I have become much aware of this almost parallel world and the impact data and digitalization have on our lives. What happens to our data? How is data being regulated? How are citizens included in this? What is the role of public institutions? And the role of companies?

How will all those things going on in a physical city be included in its digital version?" 

There are a lot of things going on in the physical city. Will all those things be included in a digital version of the city? And how will they be included? As a sociologist, I am particularly interested in conflict. There is always friction between people and the government: people are complaining, protesting, self-organizing. Is this going to be included in such a platform? These platforms are developed by public institutions, so do they have an interest in including these frictions? I am not sure. I also see that often there is more attention to optimizing the technology – in this case the data infrastructure – than to the question what we actually want to solve with the technology.  


Is there a podcast, book or film that inspires you?

I just finished a book called ‘The hours have lost their clock. The politics of nostalgia’. It is a really fascinating book, that talks about how we are focused on – and idealize – the past and the political consequences of this. Grafton Tenner also touches upon the role of technology. In the book, he mentions the work of Mark Fisher – so his books are next on my reading list.

Grafton Tanner. The hours have lost their clock. The politics of nostalgia. 2021.  ISBN 9781913462444


On the 25th of May, dr. Thomas Swerts and dr. Carola van Eijk will talk more about the research of the Urban Digital Twins team. More information here: Mini-symposium Urban Digital Twins | Centre for BOLD Cities (