Through this project, I want to think about what it means to link Delhi and air through an apostrophe. What is Delhi’s air? For whom is Delhi’s air? What is being seen? What ways of seeing are being cultivated? What is articulated but not cultivated? What illegibilities do visualizing strategies confront? I want to understand how to convey at once that scaling air is tied to governance and environmental politics; that it links the body, lung, and individual in a specific way; and that it shows the important work of science to make all these links.
Delhi’s lethal air frustrates science and politics. Scientists contend with the fact that air flows across boundaries, yes, but toxic excesses at Delhi’s ever-shifting borders create unequal, punctured spheres of breathing. Scientists visualise air as urban, regional, national, transnational––their research trajectories attuned to both national and environmental politics. They know that to place air is a political project requiring choices to be made about what scale is appropriate for governance. They contend with existing environmental monitoring and regulatory infrastructures to propose policy changes. Research papers on Delhi’s air start by locating it within the developing world, within the megacity and its attendant toxic idioms, within a body open to attack by new types of toxics. They invariably end with policy suggestions, one of them a demand for more, better science. The central government of India, meanwhile, periodically rejects evidence of air pollution mortality and morbidity, demanding for more, better Indian science.
This project contends with the wonky task of placing Delhi’s air even as visualization strategies to put air in its place raise questions about, first, how air should be governed. They raise questions about how different scales of government work together. Or atleast, how they should work together. Satellite maps showing a geographical area larger than the Delhi megacity agglomeration point our attention to the necessity for collaboration across different state governments. Real-time air quality index maps with zoom-in & zoom-out functions tells us that it’s not just Delhi, it is the Indo-Gangetic Plain, it’s India, it’s Asia.
Second, they raise questions about the nature of toxic matter. What does it mean to talk about the toxicity of PM2.5 when PM2.5 is not a molecule but a visualization of a scale of matter? When images of PM2.5 stuck deep in the lungs of Delhi residents become viral, an association is made between the Delhi lung and a scale of matter. This association brings forth new visualization techniques that place the individual at the center of environmental advocacy and activism. What can one individual do when everyone knows that air is a perplexing complex thing? What can one individual do when even governments cannot work it out?
Strategies to visualize PM2.5 link individuals and governments in new ways. I do not find the word neoliberalism adequate to explain this linking work, as the state is not in withdrawal at all. It is present in violent, full public regalia. Nor do appeals to emergent nationalist politics suffice, as the materiality of air disturbs projects that think about a national air. How can this new way of linking be figured out? Is it new at all?
[more work on this proposal: hyperlinking my claims]
My draft place proposal for the 2020 Visualizing Toxic Places project
Anonymous, "VtP Draft Proposal: Delhi's air", contributed by Prerna Srigyan, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 3 February 2020, accessed 25 September 2023. http://centerforethnography.org/content/vtp-draft-proposal-delhis-air