Vivien Butot is PhD student at the LDE Centre for BOLD Cities/Erasmus University Rotterdam. Butot has a background in urban and cultural geography. During his prior education, he developed a broad interest for urban matters like citizen initiatives in housing, urban design, sense of place and neighborhood dynamics. In his PhD research, he focuses on citizen perspectives on smart city developments and public safety. The promotors of this PhD research are Prof. dr. Liesbet van Zoonen; academic director at the Centre for BOLD Cities, professor of Sociology and dean of the Erasmus Graduate School of Social Sciences and the Humanities at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, Prof. dr. Gabriele Jacobs; endowed Professor in Organizational Behavior and Culture at Erasmus University of Rotterdam and Prof. dr. Petra Saskia Bayerl; Professor in Digital Communication and Security at Sheffield Hallam University.
Could you tell us more about your current research at the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for BOLD Cities?
The focus in my research project is on how citizens react to the idea and daily environment of a smart city. The research question is ‘How do people react to the concept of smart cities and to the smart city as an everyday living environment?’. To study citizens’ perspectives on smart cities, it is necessary to make the idea of a smart city come alive to participants. This helps them get an understanding of what the notion of the smart city is about and how they are already interacting with it.
I am in the fourth year of this PhD research, which is partly funded by the municipality of Rotterdam. In the first two years of the project, I collaborated closely with Freek de Haan; postdoctoral researcher at CESAM (Centre of Excellence in Public Safety Management, Erasmus University).
Because the smart city is not necessarily known to everybody, I explore different creative methodologies to make the smart city ‘come alive’, as if it were. In this project I use different methods. For example, I started with interviewing different groups on their reaction to a concept smart city. In these interviews participants were presented six short stories containing multiple smart city scenarios. Furthermore, I have explored social media to find out how people themselves speculate about smart cities and their technologies. For instance, during the first covid break out, a specific group of people started opposing the introduction of 5G networks, attracting a lot of public attention. I became interested in this phenomenon of stories that are created by groups of citizens and what effect this has on society and reality. Together with an artist from Codarts and an artist from WdKA, I organized walks inspired by data walks, asking participants to search for data collection in the city and, to take photos of what they see and to describe their experience in the process. We worked with different target groups in this project, including students and internationals, young woman (because of the relation between street intimidation and privacy), municipal security officers and diversity advocates.
It is interesting to notice the difference in reactions of citizens that take part in our research. The response to our different research methods (interviews in an office, city walks) are diverse. Notably, my experience is that walking in the city tends to create a more direct and confrontational experience of the smart city than the scenario-based interviews conducted in an office. For my dissertation I intend to further tease out such differences between methodologies and related reactions.
An interdisciplinary approach is needed for smart city related research, because smart cities are multidisciplinary and citizen perspectives can be studied from various disciplinary angles.
How do you experience working on research at the Centre for BOLD Cities?
It is a very positive experience. I enjoy working in a diverse team that consists of multiple scientific specializations. During the covid lock down, which made fieldwork research a lot more complicated to carry out, I received useful input and support from colleagues at the Centre.
Why do you think an interdisciplinary approach is needed for smart city related research/this research project?
Smart cities are multidisciplinary itself and citizen perspectives can also be studied from various disciplinary angles; psychology/sociology, governance, human geography, human computer interactions and data science and critical data studies. All these specializations have benefits to offer for the study of smart cities and citizen perspectives.