Accepted paper:

The social life of difficult things: navigating air pollution in Mongolia's capital

Authors:

Saskia Abrahms-Kavunenko (New York University Shanghai)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will discuss the social life of a 'difficult thing': air pollution. It will pay attention to the ways that pollution, light and purity are part of urban assemblages. How does the desire for purification and light, in a chronically polluted city, relate to Mongolian religious practices?

Paper long abstract:

Urban dwellers tend to be buffered from intimacy with the feedback loops of environmental calamities. Urban centers are examples of the ingenuity of human 'niche construction', whereby an organism actively alters its environment to make that environment more habitable for itself, reducing the immediate selection pressures of natural selection (Odling-Smee et al. 2003). In large cities, most urbanites live largely disconnected from the processes that feed them and provide them with energy. For the wealthier inhabitants of cities temperature extremes are more of an inconvenience, to be alleviated with central heating or air conditioning, than the serious threat that they are for the urban poor. Looking at Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar this paper will explore one feedback loop that affects all urbanites: air pollution. The paper will investigate how urban Mongols navigate chronic air pollution through religious practices. In the context of a heavily polluted winter city a lack of light, which is continually obfuscated by smog, is associated with spiritual blockages. The pollution of the air, with its actual limitations on light and breath, creates obscurations in both cosmological and tangible ways. This paper will discuss the social life of a 'difficult thing': air pollution. In doing it will attempt to illustrate urban life in the Anthropocene. It will pay close attention to the ways that pollution, light and purity are part of urban assemblages. And how the desire for purification and light, in a chronically polluted city, relates to both human and other-than-human beings.

panel P019
Liveability in a time of ecological destruction [Humans and Other Living Beings Network]