The 2015/2016 CAS research project Airborne: Pollution, Climate Change, and New Visions of Sustainability in China has invited Associate Professor Matthew Kohrman to give a lecture at CAS.

The lecture is titled "Filtered Life: Air Purification, Gender, and Cigarettes in the People’s Republic of China" with the following abstract:

Experiencing environmental contamination, residents of China today are reaching for old and new methods to envelop themselves in the materiel of cleanliness, purity, and unadulteration.  Confronted with recently named specters, from ‘airpocolypses’ to ‘airmageddon’, urgencies and practices converge around how and whether to use filtration technologies to remove contaminants from what one breaths, swallows, and touches. 

In this presentation, I will focus on two ostensibly disconnected subsets of filters commonly used in urban China today:  free-standing air purifiers designed for home use and cigarette filters.  My discussion of these two technologies emboldens several arguments.  First, the current adoption of air purifiers by Chinese urbanites, rather than unprecedented, is of a piece with past cultural scripts and events. 

Second, air filtration in the People's Republic has been generative for a way of being human – what I call ‘filtered life’ – that has been little understood, even though it has been unfolding for nearly half a century.  This is a materially mediated form of existence (which all existence always is) wherein the physicality of the air filter becomes something that allows people to experience, cope with, and shape changing forms of politics and ethics about what it means to be human in a time of heightened anxiety over aerosolized ruination. 

And third, understanding how such filtered life has unfolded through specific innovations in the design of cigarettes casts light on a gender-inflected critique of China’s current environmental conditions.

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