Automated landlord: Digital technologies and post-crisis financial accumulation

Dr Desiree Fields is a Lecturer in the Department of Geography and is also an Associate Fellow of the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute and Visiting Researcher at the Sheffield Urban Institute.

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At the heart of her work is an interest in how economic - and increasingly, technological - transformations unevenly restructure urban space and social relations, with a particular concern for how urban struggles for justice coalesce around these changes. Within this broadly defined area, she grapples with two transformations as they relate to housing, a crucial vector of urban inequality and terrain of grassroots political contestation. First, the shift to a finance-oriented political economy; second, the growing global reach and power of digital platforms.

Most recently, Fields studied how recent advances in digital technology contributed to post-2008 strategies of housing financialization. This work led to her concept of ‘the automated landlord’, whereby the management of tenants and properties is increasingly not only mediated, but governed, by smartphones, digital platforms, and apps, and the data and analytics these devices and infrastructures gather and enable. Fields recently published an open-access article on the automated landlord in Environment and Planning A.

In her current work, funded by the British Academy, Fields is collaborating with researchers in the UK, Australia, and the United States to study how digital platforms for the rental market may re-shape power relations between tenants and landlords. The research aims to foster more socially just urban futures by improving understanding of, and generating responses to, the linked challenges of how to harness digital platforms toward public good and improve experiences of renting. Together with a cross-faculty team of researchers, Fields was also recently awarded seed funding from the Faculty of Social Sciences to study the role of artificial intelligence in social housing and social care.

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