Breathing In: Air and Atmospheres

Thursday, 1 August, 2024 - 12:00

A new seminar series running from February to June 2024

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 seminar series is co-hosted by WISER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research) at the University of the Witwatersrand and the IAS (Institute of Advanced Studies) at University College London (UCL). It will run fortnightly on Mondays at 4-5pm JHB time/2-3pm London time. It will build 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, with a leading focus on global South contexts.

Speakers include Uhuru Phalafala, Ruthie Wilson Gilmore, Euclides Goncalves, Lucy Sabin, Jorge Olcina Cantos, Awadhendra Sharan, Ruth Sacks, Matthew Gandy,  Amina Kaskar, Rowan Boyson and Gala Rexer

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

Papers, extracts or images will be tabled a week in advance of each session and participants are asked to read or view them beforehand.

Please register on Zoom in advance of the seminar.

Please distribute this widely and especially to people in your networks who have a particular interest in this emerging topic.

WISER Research Theme: