Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

“The Citizen” as a Ghost Subject in Co-Producing Smart Sustainable Cities: An Intersectional Approach

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Abstract:  The importance and benefits of engaging citizens as co-producers of urban transformation have been increasingly recognised. However, the mere implementation of citizen co-production does not guarantee more legitimate or inclusive policy decisions and outcomes, especially when power inequalities that shape local decision-making remain unaddressed. This article examines the transformative potential of citizen co-production in smart sustainable city initiatives using two successive citizen panels in Trondheim, Norway, as cases. The study aimed to understand the role of citizen co-production in these panels, and the notion of “the citizen” within their frameworks. Three challenges with co-production were identified. Firstly, the ad-hoc nature of citizen engagement emphasised individual participation rather than facilitating collective spaces from which political agency could emerge. Secondly, citizens’ viewpoints were perceived as uninformed preferences that could be transformed through professional guidance. This, coupled with the closed nature of the initiatives, raises questions about the transformative potential of the processes, particularly in challenging the underlying premises of citizen co-production shaped by a neoliberal discourse of smart sustainable cities. The article concludes with a call to analyse citizen co-production spaces through an intersectional lens that attends to relational understandings of power dynamics and identities. This analysis should not only consider who participates, but also how “the citizen” as a subject is conceptualised and mobilised, how citizens’ interests and knowledge are taken into account, and the political significance of their involvement.

Keywords:  citizen panel; co-production; democratic innovations; intersectionality; smart sustainable cities



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© Leika Aruga, Hilde Refstie, Hilde Nymoen Rørtveit. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.