Department of Social Anthropology

Habitable Air

“Habitable Air” is a groundbreaking project that seeks to explore the intersection between urban inequality, political divisions, and the impact of pollution and climate change. Using qualitative research methods and working closely with a network of experts, policymakers, and community members, the project aims to generate actionable knowledge to promote cooperation between governments, the public, and marginalized communities.

Duban pollution
Photo: Sandile Duma

Main content

Habitable Air: Urban Inequality in the Time of climate Change is a project that addresses the under-analyzed relationship between three urgent issues: (1) the rapid growth of urban inequality; (2) the amplification of political divisions in major democracies; and (3) the increasing impact of pollution and global warming. 

Our project’s primary objective is to examine how the urban poor, living on the margins of a jointly-owned petrochemical company in South Africa, Germany, and the U.S., manage the cultural and corporeal effects of chemical air pollution. Our secondary objective is to analyze how long-standing struggles over industrial toxicity are newly being shaped as climate science becomes increasingly integral to contemporary governance. 

The project uses qualitative methods – including ethnographic participant observation and the analysis of historical archival documents – at a scale that only quantitative studies of climate change have yet achieved by working within a clear network of scientists, policymakers, workers, and residents in transnational sites.

8 books
Habitable air, litterature

The project makes a theoretical contribution about the complex ways industrial toxicity intersects with global warming by shifting the focus to ordinary citizens, their practices and interactions, as they grapple with an industry that is at the center of their lives and community debates about their own health and that of the planet. By studying networked citizen practices and interactions as key drivers for reordering urban life and politics, as well as in what ways they fail or are effective, we may better be able to dismantle a homogenized view of air pollution across borders to help create more equitable and sustainable cities. 

Through major publications, teaching and training, a documentary film, policy briefs, media outreach, public workshops, and an international symposium, the project will produce actionable knowledge to build cooperation between the public, governments, and marginalized communities. 

Read more about our project on our main webage: Habitable Air