Asthmatic Spaces: An Analysis of How Infrastructure Conditions Health

Project #: 89
Name: Alison Kenner (; 518-221-5460)
Department: History and Politics
Academic Area: Anthropology, History & Political Science, Mobilities Research; Science, Technology, and Society, Urban Environmental Studies

Title: Asthmatic Spaces: An Analysis of How Infrastructure Conditions Health

This is a multi-sited ethnography of U.S. environmental health knowledge and infrastructure. Multi-sited ethnography follows people, organizations, technologies, and relationships across space, building analysis through the juxtaposition of data. The project investigates three different contexts, 1) U.S. asthma research and care, 2) air monitoring infrastructure and environmental information systems, and 3) urban sustainability and civic engagement. (The scope of the project will allow the student to choose a project area that best fits their research interests.) The project contributes to a book manuscript (under development), peer-reviewed articles, and a digital archive (Environmental Health Sense). Environmental health problems such as the relationship between asthma and air quality are difficult to study and care for because these problems are riddled with complexity. Human bodies, individual and community health are complex on their own terms, as are ecosystems and environmental degradation; knowledge production focused on human-environment interaction proves challenging for scientists, and shapes the responses of impacted citizens, medical professionals, and policymakers, including how we treat environmental health conditions (like asthma), adjust infrastructure in local communities, and design federal policy. The three project components 1) U.S. asthma research and care, 2) air monitoring infrastructure and environmental information systems, and 3) urban sustainability and civic engagement are in various stages of development. U.S. Asthma Research and Care is currently focused on mapping asthma knowledge production; this involves collecting peer-reviewed articles, analyzing and categorizing articles according to a study rubric, and creating visual representations of trends in asthma research. There are also opportunities to investigate and analyze the history of inhaler technologies. Air Monitoring Infrastructure and Environmental Information Systems focuses on documenting how environmental policy has shaped the development of air monitoring networks, and investigates the myriad factors that produce knowledge gaps around air pollution. The project also documents and analyzes environmental information systems designed to communicate air quality conditions to the public. Urban Sustainability and Civic Engagement is the newest component of the overall project. For this component of the project we will be collecting case studies and scholarly literature that documents shifting perceptions, concerns, and activities related to environmental health. Philadelphia is a key site for this project. Conceptually, the described project analyzes how infrastructures (broadly conceived) shape what we can know about environmental health problems, and how we can address them.

Associated Independent Study:
The student will undertake a three-credit independent study that focuses on reading foundational texts in the field of Science and Technology Studies. Readings will be geared towards the student's interests; possible reading areas include the sociopolitical dimensions of knowledge production; social analysis of environmental health problems; social analysis of infrastructure; and feminist health geography. The student will also learn the history of the field of Science and Technology Studies, including the advancement of various theory, the contributions of sub-disciplines, the diversity of research topics, and how contemporary social, political, economic, environmental, and technoscientific problems shape the field.

Gained Experience:
The student will 1) learn the methodological tools (design of multi-sited ethnography, discourse analysis) and theoretical framework for social science research; 2) digital curation of social science data; 3) social science data analysis; and 4) will also have the opportunity to develop their own research project as a subset or complement to the larger project.

A book, peer-reviewed articles, grant proposal, and website

1) researching government data sets on respiratory disorders; 2) entering data onto the project website; 3) creating visual representations of research findings; 4) coding data

Drexel library, STS research lab

1-3 days a week between 2:30-5:30PM

Interview Availability:
April 18, 2014; April 21, 2014; April 22, 2014