The elusiveness of air - a financial asset that can help shaping environmental politics2024-02-09
Xin Liu, senior lecturer in gender studies at Karlstad University, receives funding for her research from Geomedia to write the book ”Making Air Smart: The Sociotechnical Imaginaries of Atmospheric Data”.
Xin Liu, in what way is this project connected to Geomedia?
- It examines the production, imaginaries, experiences, and implications of atmospheric data, which includes environmental data such as air quality index, remote sensing data of forest, and radar scan of atmosphere. It is connected to Geomedia by way of its focus on the implication of digital media on our understanding and experience of the environment.
Your project was selected among several applicants - why do you think yours was chosen?
- I believe that there is a strong connection between this project and the ongoing research at Geomedia. The central themes of my project, especially the practices of smartification and the digitally mediated knowledge and imaginaries of air, are fascinating areas of research. I am particularly interested in exploring how air, whose elusiveness evokes the most captivating sociotechnical and cultural imaginaries, can be seen as a financial asset and shape environmental politics.
- In addition, I believe that the project can make a meaningful contribution to the field of science and technology studies by investigating both the processes through which atmospheric data is produced, and the various ways in which such data is utilized, negotiated and made sense of. The analysis of these processes serves to bridge the gap between the global and local aspects of environmental data and environmental governance.
Can you exemplify of atmospheric data
- Atmospheric data in this study concerns the datafication of atmospheric relations. Let me give one example to explain. One of the case studies of the project concerns the production and utilization of Air Quality Index (AQI), which assesses air quality levels ranging from good to hazardous. It is based on the measurement of air pollutants including particulate matter, Ozone, carbon monoxide emissions, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide. China incorporated the measurement of PM2.5, which is one of the most harmful air pollutants, into the national ambient air quality standards in 2012. As I have shown in my studies on the imaginary of “people of smog” (Liu 2019) and “nose hair” (Liu 2019), the new knowledge about PM2.5 and the controversy surrounding AQI significantly impacted Chinese environmental politics and how air came to be understood, imagined and breathed.
How will this Geomedia funded project be implemented?
- This project analyzes textual, visual and ethnographic materials that have already been collected. During the fall semester, I will write two sample chapters and a book proposal.
What expectations do you have for this project?
- This project draws inspiration from and brings into conversation a wide array of approaches to digitalization, smartification, and atmosphere, ranging from critical data studies, feminist science and technology studies, digital media research, environmental media studies and cultural studies. Using sociotechnical imaginary as an overarching framework, it provides insights into how various forms of atmospheric data are produced, how they configure human-digital-environmental relations in new ways, and how they impact social, political and economic practices in the face of climate change and environmental degradation.
Is there a research gap to be filled here?
- While there is an emerging body of interdisciplinary research on issues of air pollution and the production and application of atmospheric data, there remains a gap – both empirically and methodologically – between the analysis of the political economy of atmospheric data, and its social, cultural and embodied dimensions. This project fills this gap by using sociotechnical imaginary as an overarching framework to analyze a broad set of visual, textual and ethnographic materials.