Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Polluting Infrastructures and Environmental, Reproductive, and Racial Injustice in North London

17 June 2024, 2:00 pm–3:00 pm

Breathing In seminar series

'Methodologies for Living with Toxicity: Polluting Infrastructures and Environmental, Reproductive, and Racial Injustice in North London' - Breathing In: Air and Atmospheres Seminar with Dr Gala Rexer, UCL/University of Warwick. This seminar series is run jointly by the IAS and WiSER at Wits, and takes place fortnightly on Zoom.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to

All | UCL staff | UCL students






Professor Megan Vaughan – Institute of Advanced Studies

In this exploratory paper, I invite you to visit the Edmonton Waste Incinerator in North London. Since 2020, climate justice and Black Lives Matter activists have been campaigning against the expansion of this already polluting infrastructure. The incinerator currently burns about 500,000 tons of waste a year and its fumes release lead, mercury and ultra-fine particulate matter into one of London’s poorest neighbourhoods. Physicians contesting the plans to expand the incinerator have presented the adverse health outcomes this will have for newborns and pregnant people, while local politicians warn of long-term public health consequences. Discussing these findings, I illustrate how air pollution – past, present and projected – needs to be conceptualized through an intersectional lens, as environmental, reproductive and racial injustice. Secondly, given the latency and accumulation of pollution and toxicity in the human body, I ask if (and how) we can witness the unfolding of 'slow violence' of polluting infrastructures as they are being built and rebuilt. Drawing from anti-colonial science and technology studies and queer ecology, I argue that living with toxicity complicates how we study health inequalities.

Breathing In: Air and Atmospheres Seminar

This seminar series, run jointly by the IAS and WiSER (Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of the Witwatersrand) takes place fortnightly on Zoom.  It builds on ongoing and emergent academic attention to air and atmospheres and draws out suggestions for future research and for ways of acting upon the contemporary air and atmospheric crisis, with a leading focus on global South contexts.

Recent work on infrastructures, atmospheres and the biospheric shifts associated with conditions of the Anthropocene have relied on rendering newly vivid those aspects of the social which have long been treated as background. Sensory ecologies - affective or experienced space which compose environments, in Matthew Gandy’s terms, are synesthetic: like sounds, they reverberate within human and more-than-human subjects. Affective atmospheres are shared bodily situations, drawing also on renewed and shifting elemental understandings of air and refracted light. How can we come conceptually closer to the toxicities of both air pollution and rising authoritarianisms, to material and metaphoric atmospheres – and other less-than-visible carriers of damage? And to a better sense of the entanglements and relationalities that such modes of thought can produce? The growing non-transparency of air, in Sumana Roy’s terms, produces paranoid reading: suspicious, anticipatory theories of negative affect. This occurs in the context of the ‘disappearance of air’ in favour of mask filters, air purifiers and the AQI (Air Quality Index) for those who can afford it. Yet there may also be a reparative range to these questions: making air explicative might offer analytic opportunities for sustenance and responsiveness to what is to come.

About the Speaker

Dr Gala Rexer

Lecturer (Teaching) in Race, Ethnicity, and Postcolonial Studies Sarah Parker Remond Centre, IAS at UCL/University of Warwick

More about Dr Gala Rexer

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