Breathing In : Air and Atmospheres by Awadhendra Sharan

Monday, 20 May, 2024 - 16:00

WiSER and the Institute for Advanced Studies (IAS) at the University of London UCL warmly invite you to the next seminar in our online series:  

Breathing In: Air and Atmospheres  

Awadhendra Sharan will speak on

(Re) Configuring Atmospheres: Design, Technology and the Quest for ‘Pure air’ in Colonial India.

Click here for paper

My presentation shall focus on practices and technologies through which air was sought to be rendered ‘pure’ in cities in colonial India. In particular, I shall draw attention to hygienic discourses that prioritized ‘sunshine and fresh air’, street design and architectural features that aimed at better ventilation and temperature control, electricity and air-conditioning that were popularized in the late colonial period, as much for cleanliness as for cooling, and products such as soaps and mouth wash that advertised their ability to deal with germs that populated the atmosphere. Through these, I shall outline how (i) urban atmospheres were sought to be modified at the local scale to ensure greater comfort and health and (ii) how individual bodies sought to adapt themselves in response to prevailing atmospheric conditions, both being inflected by relations of race, class and gender.

Awadhendra Sharan is Professor and Director, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. Trained as a historian at Delhi University, India and the University of Chicago, USA, Prof. Sharan’s research interests are in the field of urban and environmental studies. He is the author of Dust and Smoke: Air Pollution and Colonial Urbanism, India c.1860-1940 (Delhi, 2020) and In the City, Out of Place: Nuisance, Pollution and Dwelling in Delhi, c.1850-2000 (Delhi, 2014). Prof Sharan has also published widely in academic journals in India and abroad. In addition to his academic commitments, he serves on the Executive Committee of the Delhi based NGO, Ankur: Society for Alternatives in Education which works in the field of experimental pedagogy among young adults in marginalized neighbourhoods of Delhi.

Monday, 20th May 2024
4pm (Johannesburg time)
Register here

The series is convened by Isabel Hofmeyr and Sarah Nuttall (WiSER) and Megan Vaughan (IAS).

Recent work on infrastructures, atmospheres and the biospheric shifts associated with conditions of the Anthropocene have relied on rendering newly vivid those aspects of the social which have long been treated as background. Sensory ecologies - affective or experienced space which compose environments, in Matthew Gandy’s terms, are synesthetic: like sounds, they reverberate within human and more-than-human subjects. Affective atmospheres are shared bodily situations, drawing also on renewed and shifting elemental understandings of air and refracted light. How can we come conceptually closer to the toxicities of both air pollution and rising authoritarianisms, to material and metaphoric atmospheres – and other less-than-visible carriers of damage? And to a better sense of the entanglements and relationalities that such modes of thought can produce? The growing non-transparency of air, in Sumana Roy’s terms, produces paranoid reading: suspicious, anticipatory theories of negative affect. This occurs in the context of the ‘disappearance of air’ in favour of mask filters, air purifiers and the AQI (Air Quality Index) for those who can afford it. Yet there may also be a reparative range to these questions: making air explicative might offer analytic opportunities for sustenance and responsiveness to what is to come.  

 The Series runs fortnightly on Mondays @ 4-5pm JHB time /3pm London time.  It builds on ongoing and emergent academic attention to air and atmospheres and draw out suggestions for future research and for ways of acting upon the contemporary air and atmospheric crisis.

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