Articulating exposure: visualising air pollution and 'health' in epidemiological data practices
Emma Garnett (King's College London)
Paper short abstract:
Exposure indicates and measures the encounter between a ‘breather’ and the air around them. Drawing on research with an interdisciplinary public health project, I trace the ways in which exposure was configured and made visible in the performative techniques of epidemiological data practices.
Paper long abstract:
Exposure was the term used by scientists on the Weather Health and Air Pollution (WHAP) project to indicate and measure the encounter between a 'breather' and the air around them. This link needs to be made in order for a health claim to be made about air pollution. Exposure implies a situated moment, yet I found in epidemiological data practices it was not located in a singular, breathing body, but was multiplied to population bodies in order to construct a measure of risk. I make explicit the scientific work involved in problematising breath at the population level by tracing the ways in which exposure (the result of breathing) was configured and made visible in the performative techniques of data making. Considering breath through researchers' attempts to materialise exposure as data visualisations complicated what counts as the inside (breathed in air) and outside (ambient air) of bodies. Indeed, the multiplying of bodies to populations were problematic for researchers, so that measures of exposure were considered a partial measure of 'real' breathing in the world. I suggest that approaches in Anthropology and STS which draw on post-humanist theories of materiality may be a way to re-think exposure in productive ways, by complicating boundaries, and extending exposure encounters to include 'other bodies'. I show that studying data practices make visible different kinds of relations of air - multiplying what counts as an air encounter/exposure - and are opportunities to open up ways of engaging with the air we share in more creative ways.
Exposure: interdisciplinary perspectives on breath, air and atmospheres