School of Social and Political Science

Nicolas Zehner

Job Title

PhD title: Planning for Uncertain Futures: Materialising Urban Visions in Edinburgh (working title)


City (Address)


Country (Address)



PhD Topic

Managing (un)certain Futures - Constructing Data-Driven Visions in the Edinburgh City Region (Working title)

This doctoral study investigates the process by which urban planning agents imagine futures and the sociotechnical conditions which help establish the credibility of their expectations. Aiming to shed light on the practice of city-making, this thesis examines how urban planning agents construct and diffuse specific urban sociotechnical imaginaries. To that end, it empirically engages with the implementation of a contemporary urban redevelopment project, the Edinburgh and South-East Scotland City Region Deal (CRD). The latter represents a 1.3bn investment by the Scottish and UK governments and local partners over the next fifteen years, which is designed to accelerate inclusive growth through the funding of infrastructure, skills and data-driven innovation. Officially signed in August 2018, the CRD presents a unique case study for at least three reasons: First, it allows to observe anticipation at a time when the expected future is still yet to come. Second, it constitutes the first higher education driven city region deal in the UK. Finally, it aligns a cluster of extremely powerful actors around one specific sociotechnical imaginary - establishing the city region as the 'Data Capital of Europe'.

Conceptually rooted at the intersection of an emergent literature in the sociology of imagination and urban assemblage thinking, this doctoral study attempts to contribute to three bodies of literature. First, it will advance the research agenda of the sociology of imagination by shedding light on the production of a specific urban sociotechnical imaginary at the intersection of science and politics. Second, it will add to debates in the sociology of scientific knowledge by problematising the relationship between scientific expertise and political accountability. Finally, it attempts to contribute to smart urbanism debates by overcoming the artificial disctinction between either technology-centric or citizen-centric approaches to the smart city.


Dr. Nick Prior

Dr. Nathan Coombs


Master of Arts in International Political Economy 2016-2017

University of Warwick

Dissertation: "Social Acceleration and the Imagination of Alternative Economic Futures"

Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, Politics & Economics 2012-2016

Zeppelin University


Book reviews/essays

Zehner, N (2019) Double book review of Göran Therborn (2017) Cities of Power. The Urban, the National, the Popular, the Global and Michael Sorkin (2018) What goes up. The Right and Wrongs to the City in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space.


"Closes and Opens: A History of Edinburgh's Futures" A Edinburgh Futures Institute-sponsored movie about the history of Edinburgh's futures: produced, written and narrated by Liz McFall and AWED. The movie can be found here:

"The Armchair Sociologist- Before, After & Possible Futures of Covid-19" Guest appearance on "The Armchair Sociologist", discussing the role of futures in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The video can be found here:


36th European Group for Organisational Studies Colloquium. Selected for pre-Colloquium PhD Workshop, Hamburg, June, 2020.

"Planning for Uncertain Futures: Constructing Data-Driven Visions in teh Edinburgh City Region", AMPS Conference, London, June, 2020.

"Planning for an Uncertain Future - Storying Urban Visions in Edinburgh", New Directions Conference, Edinburgh, April, 2019.

Teaching experience

Sociology 1a: The Sociological Imagination: Individuals and Society (SCIL08004), tutorial, essay assessment and marking; 1st year UG main lecture, winter semester 2019 and 2020; University of Edinburgh


ESRC Studentship 2019-2022

German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) PROMOS Scholarship 2014

Research interests

Research interests

Cities, urban sociology, Economic Sociology, Imagination, expectations, Sociology of expectations and futures, Dynamics of capitalism, Urban Ethnography, political economy of urban design, economic sociology of imagination, data-driven innovation, sociology of scientific knowledge, Science and technology studies, sociotechnical imaginaries

Works within