Program on Science, Technology and Society at Harvard

Harvard Kennedy School of Government | Harvard University
Andrew Stokols

Andrew Stokols

stokols (at) mit.edu

PhD Candidate, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Andrew’s research interests bridge political economy, history, urban design, and science and technology studies. Having lived in China, Singapore, and South Korea, he became interested in how historical legacies of state-led industrialization shape current approaches to urbanization and development in the region. Today, the frontier of economic development has shifted to digital technologies, and increasingly data. In 2016, World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab’s idea of the “fourth industrial revolution” came to encompass a vision of the future “blurring the cyber and physical world”, such as through the internet of things (IoT), 5G, big data, and virtual twins of physical environments. Andrew’s dissertation project examines how ideas about futurity, such as the 4th IR, have been adopted into the development strategies of East Asian nations Thailand, Singapore, and China. How is the deployment of these technologies shaped by their implantation into contexts of late development, shaped through legacies of national development imaginaries? In these national contexts, technologies like 5G, virtual twins, and city data platforms are trialed in “sandboxes”, “pilot zones”, and “smart cities”—but now as national testbeds instead of corporate testbeds as was often the case with early smart city projects.

How can we compare the way “late developing” states today are promoting cyber-physical development to the strategies of 20th century “development states” that aimed to boost export-led manufacturing? How does this change our understanding of data from “the new oil”, monopolized by private platform firms, to a vision of data as infrastructure for nations and cities? Can we conceive of a “digital developmental state” that disciplines private technology firms, asserts data sovereignty, and incubates national digital champions? What is the role of the state in an era of rapid, compressed development?

Andrew is also interested in understanding how individuals can shape the urban environment amidst these seemingly inextricable forces of technology and state power. One way he has explored this is through study of social movements, documenting how protesters have used encrypted messaging platforms to coordinate guerilla protests, often in quotidian spaces such as malls and subways, developing a theory of the “insurgent smart city” based on this research.​ His work has been published by University of Pennsylvannia Press, Journal of Urban Geography, and Journal of Urban Affairs.

Before beginning the PhD, Andrew worked for Future Cities Lab in Singapore, where he helped connect urban researchers to companies and city governments in Southeast Asia looking to bring new technologies into their planning practices. He has also worked for the World Resources Institute in Washington D.C, a small heritage preservation nonprofit in Beijing, and was a 2012 Fulbright Fellow based at Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology, where he investigated the relocation of millions of rural residents into new housing across China’s countryside.

Andrew received a Masters in Urban Planning from Harvard GSD, where he was awarded the Thesis Prize for best urban planning thesis for “Reform: Towards Human Scale Urbanism in Chinese cities”, which applied urban network analysis to generate design interventions aimed at improving the walkability and accessibility of superblock neighborhoods. At the GSD he was also part of Neil Brenner’s Urban Theory Lab, where he investigated the impact of “China’s One Belt One Road” on “planetary urbanization” in Central Asia. Andrew earned a Bachelors in Urban Studies and History at U.C. Berkeley.