Public trust and political legitimacy in the smart city: A reckoning for technocracy


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The 2020 introduction by China’s central government of a national security law (NSL) in Hong Kong marked a watershed moment in the social and political history of the semiautonomous city. The law emerged after months of street protests that reflected declining public trust in Hong Kong’s government. Against this turbulent backdrop, Hong Kong’s policy projects moved forward, including smart city development. This article explores public trust in and political legitimacy of Hong Kong’s smart cities endeavors in the period leading up to the introduction of the NSL. At a theoretical level, the smart cities phenomenon invites critical reflection about tensions between technocracy and democracy, but this topic remains largely unexploited by empirical literature. Using survey data from 1,017 residents, this study identifies confidence in the benefits of smart cities but lesser trust in privacy and security and lesser satisfaction with participation opportunities in related policymaking. Probing these dynamics, the study finds that trust in smart city mechanics and governance associate positively with support for smart cities, controlling for ideology and issue awareness. Illuminating a theoretical and practical puzzle, these findings contribute empirically to discussions about the political legitimacy of scientific, technological, and technocratic undertakings in the public sector. Copyright © 2021 The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1286-1315
JournalScience Technology and Human Values
Issue number6
Early online date08 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 01 Nov 2021


Hartley, K. (2021). Public trust and political legitimacy in the smart city: A reckoning for technocracy. Science Technology and Human Values, 46(6), 1286-1315. doi: 10.1177/0162243921992864


  • Politics
  • Power
  • Governance
  • Engagement
  • Intervention
  • Smart cities
  • Technocracy
  • Political legitimacy
  • Hong Kong


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