Spring Colloquium with Kerry Chance

Thompson Room, Barker Center, 12 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA
Wednesday, February 10, 2016 - 12:00pm

Kerry Chance, Lecturer on Social Studies, Harvard University

We Can't Breathe: The Racial Politics of Climate Change in South Africa

This paper approaches climate change as a long-standing political struggle from below, rather than a new crisis to be solved by scientific expertise, corporate accountability, or governmental efficiency from above. I examine how the urban poor in South Africa manage air pollution that is at once chemical, spiritual, and technological. I focus on a tension between breathing and being unable to breathe, a characteristic state in historically segregated townships and shack settlements. A key practice mediating these states is what residents refer to as “coughing out” (ukubhodla in isiZulu). Ukubhodla is when you clear your lungs to breathe – whether to sing, pray, or speak to ancestors – in effervescent collective space. The local and global networks produced, in spite of their fleeting and ephemeral qualities, give substance to public solidarity between residents. Broadly, I argue that breathing, the most taken-for-granted of human activities, is a highly differentiated practice. As the first and the last gesture of politics, breathing embodies innovative challenges by the urban poor to climate change consensus.

Free and open to the public.  A Q+A session will follow each talk.  Please feel free to bring a lunch.

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