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Geotechnologies are introduced purportedly to address spatial and socio-structural
problems and asymmetrical power dynamics. However, research has shown that these
geotechnologies are often bound to exasperate these problems through digitally
mediated power imbalances. Geo-enhanced video surveillance technologies are being
adopted, among other things, to maintain public order and security in cities, and
manage and control critical infrastructure and traffic. With the aid of artificial
intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), such modern urban video surveillance
systems are largely automated. These surveillance systems are crucial in complex
urban planning, governance, and decision-making processes. But scholars have
long been raising concerns over urban video surveillance systems perpetuating
socio-spatial inequality, privacy violation, control, in- or hypervisibility, and
spatial (in)accessibility. Most often, these issues affect women by putting them
under the burden of normativity, restricting spatial access, or masculinizing
spaces and practices through technology. While ample scholarly work aptly captures
the socio-spatial implications of urban video surveillance systems, we still
lack a nuanced understanding of how socio-spatial biases and imbalanced power
structures get built into urban video surveillance systems.

Addressing this gap, my research aims to answer the following research question:
How do automated urban video surveillance systems (AUVSS) come into being in
contemporary Indian cities? By posing this question, I aim to explore how power
dynamics influence the design process of AUVSS in the political, spatial, and
technological dimensions. I am investigating India’s Safe City project initiated
in 2018 under the Nirbhaya fund as an empirical example to answer the research
question. The overarching goal of the Safe City project is to improve women’s
safety and security in eight Indian cities through technological interventions,
specifically, AI-powered video surveillance. Following Robert Yin’s holistic
single-case design, my research will study the city of Bengaluru as the case.
Another city, Chennai, will be used as a complementary city, the findings from
which will be used to compare and contrast with the findings from the former.

The operationalization of this research will take place from a qualitative case
study standpoint. I follow an ethnographic methodological point of departure to
address the research question. I will conduct expert interviews, participant
observation, and document analysis. Drawing on Latour’s actor-network theory
(ANT), I conceptualize AUVSS as a network of actants. The ANT approach allows us
to view AUVSS as a networked entity by acknowledging agency in both human and nonhuman actors within the system.

Conversing with the fields of urban geography, STS, and surveillance studies,
my research shifts the current scholarly focus to the pre-implementation phase
of technology systems. In addition, this research places the spatial component
at the intersection of gender, power, and contemporary AI-enabled urban video
surveillance. The completion of this research will also add to the emerging
discussion surrounding technology-mediated urban development in the Global South.

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