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Habitable Air: Urban Inequality in the Time of Climate Change


"The project examines how the urban poor, living in the shadows of jointly-owned petrochemical companies, manage the cultural and corporeal effects of chemical air pollution. A Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship will allow me to complete the research for my full-length book project, Habitable Air: Urban Inequality in the Time of Climate Change. The project asks: What political life is possible for – and created by – the world’s most environmentally precarious communities in emerging orders of climate governance? Modern democratic theory rests on the foundational principle that all citizens have an equal share in political life. In contemporary South Africa, the United States, and Germany, legacies of colonialism and racial segregation, along with neoliberalism and climate change, test that very foundation. I approach political life as not merely defined by the laws, policies, and decisions of state-sanctioned agents, but by everyday practices among ordinary citizens and their interactions with the environment. Drawing from over a decade of ethnographic research in interconnected petrochemical hubs of South Africa and Louisiana’s “cancer alley,” and expanding to a new field site in Germany, my project offers a critical examination of how the urban poor, living on the precarious margins, come to inhabit political roles and practice climate politics in twenty-first century liberal democracies, especially as climate science becomes increasingly integral to contemporary governance. The project’s innovation is to examine the under-analyzed relationship between three interrelated phenomena: the amplification of political divisions in major democracies; the rapid growth of urban inequality; and the increasing impact of pollution and global warming. By studying in interconnected global petrochemical hotspots, ""Habitable Air"" will contribute new knowledge about U.N. SDG #11 on sustainable cities and #13 on climate action.

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85 Bd Saint Germain
75006 Paris
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 196 707,84