Lucy Sabin (UCL) - 2020-21 Students

An ontology of ‘air quality’ from numerical indices to embodied practices

Air Quality Indices (AQIs) are devices for monitoring and visually mapping specific airborne pollutants (gases and/or particulate matter) across geographic zones. State-endorsed AQIs inform public health research, policies, and lifestyle behaviours by representing environments on a scale between safe and hostile for decision-makers and citizen users. This representational force with its prioritisation of technoscientific measurement is useful for politicising specific pollutants. The AQI cannot speak, however, to the diverse and dynamic relationships between bodies and aerial matter that ‘air quality’ ultimately denotes. Air quality is essentially important because it is a relationship between breathers and breathed.

This research will examine how AQIs are validated and visualised by virtue of biopolitical processes. Via multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, I will systematically reveal how an AQI comes to exist by charting the formative stages in its conceptualisation and implementation. I will then develop accounts of air pollution that transcend indexable representation through an embodied and participatory practice of ‘airscaping’. Airscaping will aim to mobilise and articulate diverse perspectives and creative modalities for paying heed to air pollution with the aim of invoking an affective urgency befitting the scale of the problem in ways that numerical indices perhaps cannot.

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