The Right to the Smart City in the Global South: A research agenda

14 Jul 2023, 12:42 p.m.
Alizadeh Tooran and Deepti Prasad

This paper is personal to us. While writing it, we have laid our cards on the table as two non-white women of the Global South; both were born, raised, educated, and worked in the Southern cities as built environment professionals in various roles. Nevertheless, we acknowledge our collective 25-plus years of living, studying, and working on unceded lands of the First Nations people in Australia – one of the few major countries located in the southern hemisphere and yet categorised in the Global North. Academic life in Australia has provided us with ongoing opportunities to conduct empirical urban research in numerous Southern cities and think and write (Alizadeh, 2021; Prasad and Alizadeh, 2020; Prasad et al., 2021; Prasad et al., 2022; Prasad et al., 2023) about the implications well beyond to inform contemporary urban studies. Here, we bring our collective lived and academic/professional experiences from around the world, hoping for a future in which binary terms such as Global South vs. Global North or smart vs. ordinary are needed less. We strive to create and contribute to an urban discourse that is rigorously mindful of the ongoing significance of the politics and geographies of knowledge production and distribution.


In this paper, we acknowledge that in recent decades urban research has come a long way in embracing the Global South, as the number of research articles focused on Southern cities published in high-ranking urban studies journals continue to rise. Nevertheless, most of these articles are still written by white scholars born, raised, and working in the Global North. Most continue to work within rather than challenge the North-dominated urban discourse and the colonial lens behind it. This is despite the unprecedented contemporary rate of urbanisation in the Global South, which is home to the majority of the world’s population. Hence, our collective work as urban researchers is far from complete.


In this paper, we (the authors, two women of the Global South) think strategically about ‘the Southern urban critique’, ‘the right to the city’, and ‘smart cities’– as well as some limitations of doing so. Intrigued by the fast pace of smart city development across the Global South, and informed by the ongoing critical debates and increasing empirical work focused on the smart city development in the Southern cities, we put forward a research agenda, ‘the right to the smart city in the Global South’. Through three lenses of expose, propose, and politicise this research agenda articulates the smart city shortcomings from a Southern critical perspective to elevate the ongoing empirical studies on the subject, to shed light on the gaps in knowledge, and to produce a normative alternative vision for ‘just smart city’.


Our challenge to readers is to help create such smart cities, to engage with and reflect on the arguments in this paper, and then complement them with further normative, future-oriented work to fully map out the particularities of an alternative Southern smart city, to inform planning and policymaking for just smart cities, and to enact the right to the smart city in the Global South. Our gratitude, however, goes to the generous, kind-hearted individuals who have participated and contributed to our research over the years. Special thanks go to the non-government and civic-society organisations and grassroots activists who entrusted us with their stories and struggles and shared their vision of a fairer urban future. Our research is empowered because of them.



Alizadeh T (2021) Global Trends of Smart Cities​: A Comparative Analysis of Geography, City Size, Governance, and Urban Planning. Cambridge, MA: Elsevier.

Prasad D, & Alizadeh T (2020) What Makes Indian Cities Smart? A Policy Analysis of Smart Cities Mission. Telematics and Informatics 55: 101466.

Prasad D, Alizadeh T, & Dowling R (2021) Multiscalar Smart City Governance in India. Geoforum 121: 173180.

Prasad D, Alizadeh T, & Dowling R (2022) Smart city place-based outcomes in India: bubble urbanism and socio-spatial fragmentation. Journal of Urban Design 27(4): 483503.

Prasad D, Alizadeh T, & Dowling R (2023) Smart city planning and the challenges of informality in India. Dialogues in Human Geography. Epub ahead of print 19 February 2023. DOI: 10.1177/20438206231156655


Read the accompanying article on Urban Studies OnlineFirst here.



You need to be logged in to make a comment. Please Login or Register

There are no comments on this resource.

Return to Category