Dr Alison  Powell

Dr Alison Powell

Associate Professor

Department of Media and Communications

Room No
Room PEL.7.01J
Office Hours
By appointment on Student Hub
Connect with me

Key Expertise
Critical Data Studies; Urban Studies, Urban Planning; Data and AI Ethics

About me

Dr Alison Powell is Associate Professor in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE, where she also serves as Programme Director for the MSc Media and Communications (Data and Society). She researches rights, ethics and values in technology design - focusing on living well together in cities and imagining alternative media futures.

Expertise Details

Critical Data Studies; Urban Studies; Urban planning; Ethics and Values in Technology Design; Data and AI Ethics; Participatory methods; Creative methods


Dr Powell has a Bachelor’s degree in Canadian Literature, extensive training in Science and Technology Studies and critical theory, and many years of field experience working with technical cultures as well as producing creative and collaborative research work. Her PhD (2008) is from Concordia University’s Communication Studies Programme. She integrates multiple perspectives to investigate the social significance of how we build communication technologies, and to develop creative and policy-relevant responses. 


My research work, along with my teaching and public communication, seeks to intervene in a space of possibility created by the embedding of technology in everyday life. Spanning creative work, policy-oriented research and empirical research, especially in urban settings, it seeks to identify and  recreate spaces for civic action – or collective life more broadly – within the technology-layered life of the 21st century.

I explore rights, ethics and value in technology design, focusing on citizenship and participation while also investigating and creating alternatives to dominant techno-systemic framings of the future.

Much of my research is creative, collaborative and participatory, drawing on research relationships with architects, urban planners, philosophers, critical disability scholars, hackers, community organizers, astronomers, artists and computer scientists. Some of my research outputs beyond academic articles, books and chapters include poems, gallery exhibits, speculative fiction and performance. I have appeared on BBC radio and frequently share my work in public settings.

Current Research Focus Areas

1.     Urban “smartness” and urban futures

I sometimes describe myself as a ‘secret geographer’ since much of my empirical research concerns the politics of technology in cities and neighbourhoods.  My book Undoing Optimization: Civic Action and Smart Cities is published by Yale University Press. This book argues that ‘techno-systemic frames’ of urban smartness shape not only commercial and government interventions but also configure citizen responses. The book not only provides an historically-grounded critique of smart-city optimization, it also outlines the roots of some new ethics and practices that might transform it. I was a member of the MoTH project: More-than-Human Data Interactions in Smart Cities (https://mothcities.uk) and am currently working on the project “Rewilding the Night” which re-imagines how, where, and why we choose to utilise artificial illumination, using ‘smart’ lighting prototyping as an opportunity to imagine and build more just, sustainable and ethical urban spaces.

2       Data and AI Ethics as Praxis

I have written several articles chapters on data ethics especially in urban contexts and within technology design. From 2019 to 2023 I directed the JUST AI Network: Joining Up Society and Technology for AI, which was supported by the AHRC and the Ada Lovelace Institute. JUST AI creates alternative ethical spaces, practices and orientations towards the issue of data and AI ethics within a broad community of practice. My approach to ‘data walking’ integrates performance, reflection and collaborative knowledge production to investigate data infrastructure and its social consequences and was part of my contribution to the artistic research project Museum of Contemporary Commodities in 2018. 

3       Technology Futures

For more than 15 years I have studied technology development including open-source software and hardware development, the Internet of Things and the Technology for Good movement. Past projects include the  Values and Ethics in Innovation for Responsible Technology in Europe (VirtEU), funded by the EU H2020 programme , which examined ways to explore ethics in practice among Internet of Things developer communities and responsible innovation, and Understanding Automated Decisions, funded by the Open Society Foundations from 2018-2019, which considered the possibility and consequences of explaining how algorithms work. Understanding Automated Decisions also culminated in an interactive research exhibit in the LSE Gallery exploring public reflections on interface design for explanation.

I’m passionate about investigating and creating alternative technology futures that address questions of human and more-than-human flourishing across scale, space and time. 

Collaboration interests

I’m currently interested in supporting projects investigating  justice and inequality in socio-technical systems (especially climate justice), and creative or design-led research, especially in partnership with arts or community organizations. I’m currently accepting doctoral students pursuing work in line with my interests as above.


Teaching and supervision

Postgraduate teaching

Dr Powell is programme director for the MSc Media and Communications (Data and Society), and convenes and teaches on the postgraduate courses Digital Media Futures and Data in Communication and Society.

She has also contributed lectures to team-taught postgraduate Media and Communications courses relating to theories and concepts (MC408/MC418) and research methodologies (MC4M1/MC4M2).


Doctoral supervision

Dr Powell supervises doctoral researchers and welcomes applications from prospective students relating to her areas of research.