Monitor and Contain

Smart Urbanism in Gaza

PhD Research Goldsmiths, University of London Sep 2015 – ongoing

Role: Author, Project Lead Supervision: Eyal Weizman, Louis Moreno

Concrete wall extending along Gaza’s northern border with Israel, January 31, 2011. Photo: Active Stills.



What is to be learned about the urban paradigm of smartness from a close examination of the monitoring and containment protocols at work in Gaza?

The sea, land, and air blockade of the Gaza Strip has now entered into its second decade. By reducing the inflow of life-sustaining resources to a bare minimum for the survival of its population, the blockade has created a form of subjugation that is unparalleled around the world. As the material conditions of life inside the Palestinian enclave are worsening at an alarming pace, Gaza is often approached as a site of exceptional backwardness. Contrarily, the thesis contends that the blockaded Gaza Strip constitutes a frontier where smartness – the defining technology of power of our urban present – is both stress-tested and calibrated.

To argue this claim, the thesis proceeds to critical study of the architecture of the Gaza blockade: from the thick bordering apparatus and its ever-smarter features, to the distributed infrastructure enabling a full-spectrum, real-time monitoring of Gaza’s urban environment, the blockade works through the constant modulation of the response addressed to a multiplicity of signals and threats. To the optimised interactions and experiences of privileged users of urban networks corresponds therefore another, darker side of smartness – the objective of which is the optimal containment of ‘suboptimal’ populations in a condition of permanent crisis. It is not difficult to imagine how Gaza, an urban containment area for two million captive residents, could form a blueprint for smart ‘solutions’ to the climate catastrophes of tomorrow.

Both extending and reframing the emerging critique of smart urbanism, the thesis excavates from the Gaza frontier a general theoretical framework to confront the urban operations of smartness, understood as a fundamentally differential technology. Responsiveness, security, and resilience are retained as the main axes along which to track and interrogate the operations of smartness at urban scale; as such, they form the three central chapters of the thesis. Grounded in the specific conditions of Gaza, the thesis proceeds by tracing links with urban conditions around the world, in an attempt to develop an effective conceptual and practical tools to address the now dominant paradigm of smart urbanism.