The 'Smart City' between urban narrative and empty signifier: the case of Hong Kong

Alistair Cole, Calvin Ming Tsun Lai, Dionysios Stivas, Émilie Tran

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


The chapter consists in an in-depth interpretative study of Smart City in the case of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, China. It proposes a framework of analysis as a heuristic tool to interpret narratives in general and those of Smart City Hong Kong in particular. The capacity of a narrative to confer meaning draws upon three criteria: its originality (degree of endogeneity); its sincerity (internal validity and trustworthiness), and its extension (its ability to provide a convincing account to the outside world). These three criteria are central to the proposed interpretative framework. They are also affected by the form of diffusion and communication. Four types of account emerged from the empirical investigation: survey responses (n.808); written responses from official agencies; face to face interviews; and collective interviews in focus groups. The substantive message conveyed differed as much by the form, as by the interest of the interviewees. By reconstituting chains of meaning in relation to the Smart City, the article interrogates the utility of technology, sustainability and e-governance as working narratives for an uncertain administration. Overall, Smart City appears as a rather hollow narrative, an empty signifier, a general term lacking clear meaning, yet concealing deeper dynamics.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationConstructing Narratives for City Governance
Subtitle of host publicationTransnational Perspectives on Urban Narration
EditorsAlistair Cole, Aisling Healy, Christelle Morel-Journel
Place of PublicationCheltenham
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781800374454
ISBN (Print)9781800374447
Publication statusPublished - 8 Dec 2022

Publication series

NamePolitical Science and Public Policy 2022

Scopus Subject Areas

  • General

User-Defined Keywords

  • Smart city
  • urban narratives
  • Hong Kong
  • sustainability
  • technology
  • governance
  • public administration


Dive into the research topics of 'The 'Smart City' between urban narrative and empty signifier: the case of Hong Kong'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this