Data intimacies: building infrastructures for intensified embodied encounters with air pollution

Nerea Calvillo, Emma Garnett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The air is, in many urban contexts, polluted. Governments and institutions monitor particles and gas concentrations to better understand how they perform in the light of air quality guidance and legislation, and to make predictions in terms of future environmental health targets. The visibility of these data is considered crucial for citizens to manage their own health, and a proliferation of new informational forms and apps have been created to achieve this. And yet, beyond everyday decisions (when to use a mask or when to do sports outdoors), it is not clear whether current methods of engaging citizens produce behavioural change or stronger citizen engagement with air pollution. Drawing on the design, construction and ethnography of an urban infrastructure to measure, make visible and remediate particulate matter (PM2.5) through a water vapour cloud that we installed at the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017, we examined the effects and affects of producing a public space that allows for physical interaction with data. In Yellow Dust, data from PM2.5 were translated into mist, the density of which was responsive to the number of particles suspended in the air. Data were made sense/ible by the changing conditions of the air surrounding the infrastructure, which can be experienced in embodied, collective and relational ways: what we call ‘molecular intimacies’. By reflecting on how the infrastructure facilitated new modes of sensing data, we consider how ‘data intimacies’ can re-specify action by producing different forms of engagement with air pollution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)340–356
Number of pages17
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue number2
Early online date28 Feb 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Feb 2019


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