Habitable Air


“Habitable Air” is a project that addresses the under-analyzed relationship between three urgent issues: (1) the rapid growth of urban inequality; (2) the amplification of political divisions in major democracies; and (3) the increasing impact of pollution and global warming. Our project’s primary objective is to examine how the urban poor, living on the margins of a jointly-owned petrochemical company in South Africa, Germany, and the U.S., manage the cultural and corporeal effects of chemical air pollution. Our secondary objective is to analyze how long-standing struggles over industrial toxicity are newly being shaped as climate science becomes increasingly integral to contemporary governance. 


The project makes a theoretical contribution about the complex ways industrial toxicity intersects with global warming by shifting the focus to ordinary citizens, their practices and interactions, as they grapple with an industry that is at the center of their lives and community debates about their own health and that of the planet. By studying networked citizen practices and interactions as key drivers for reordering urban life and politics, as well as in what ways they fail or are effective, we may better be able to dismantle a homogenized view of air pollution across borders to help create more equitable and sustainable cities. 

The project uses qualitative methods – including ethnographic participant observation and the analysis of historical archival documents – at a scale that only quantitative studies of climate change have yet achieved by working within a clear network of scientists, policymakers, workers, and residents in transnational sites.


Through major publications, teaching and training, a documentary film, policy briefs, media outreach, public workshops, and an international symposium, the project will produce actionable knowledge to build cooperation between the public, governments, and marginalized communities.


Kerry Ryan Chance

Meet Kerry Ryan Chance, Principal Investigator (PI) of the Habitable Air project. As an Associate Professor at the University of Bergen and Marie Curie Fellow, she conducts research on urban ecology and the cultural dynamics of climate change in South Africa and the U.S.  She is the author of Living Politics in South Africa’s Urban Shacklands and her work has been featured in various academic journals. Her upcoming book is Habitable Air: Urban Inequality in the Time of Climate Change.

Sharad Chari

Meet Sharad Chari, Associate Professor of Geography at UC-Berkeley, and affiliate at WiSER, South Africa. His research combines geography, Marxism, and Black Studies, with a focus on South India, South Africa, and the Indian Ocean. Author of multiple books and numerous articles, his work includes Fraternal Capital, Apartheid Remains and Gramsci at Sea. He is the Co-editor of Other Geographies and Ethnographies of Power.

Laurence Ralph

Laurence Ralph is a Professor of Anthropology and director of Center for Transnational Policing at Princeton University. His research combines urban and medical anthropology, focusing on gangs, disability, masculinity, race, and popular culture in the U.S. He is the author of multiple award-winning books, including Renegade Dreams and Torture Letters.

Charlotte Bruckermann

Charlotte Bruckermann is a Research Associate and Lecturer at the Institute for Ethnology at the University of Cologne, Germany. Her research centers on environmental and economic anthropology, digital ethnography, and comparative and global approaches in anthropology, with a focus on China and Germany. She is the author of Claiming Homes and co-author of The Anthropology of China.

Courtney Morris

Courtney Morris is an Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at UC Berkeley, researching critical race theory, feminist theory, black social movements, and race and environmental politics in the African Diaspora. She is the author of a forthcoming book, To Defend this Sunrise.

Dara Kell

Dara Kell is a South African filmmaker and writer. She is currently making a documentary about civil disobedience in America, her previous film, Dear Mandela, won multiple awards. Her work has been featured on PBS, Netflix and more. She has also produced a podcast about women in climate justice.

Kefiloe Sello

Kefiloe Sello is a Post-Doctoral Fellow in Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen under the Habitable Air Project. Her research focuses on a mining town of Sasolburg, South Africa. This ethnographic research seeks to gauge how miners, riddled with silicosis, continue to live in the area despite the poor air quality. The research also seeks to show how extractive industries are responsible not only for climate change but also for vicious circle of poverty within communities they are found. Kefiloe is a recipient of the Margaret McNamara Education Grant and the Wenner Gren Foundation.

Stefan Ogedengbe

Stefan Ogedengbe is a Ph.D. student under the Habitable Air Project at the department of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen. His research examines medical anthropology, urban inequality, ecological degradation, and preservation in urban and rural landscapes, specifically in South Africa. His Ph.D. project is an ethnography of asthma and industrial toxicity, air pollution, and climate change.

Advisory Board Members

Bjørn Enge Bertelsen

Bjørn Enge Bertelsen is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen and the Academic Director of the Holberg Prize. He has previously served as the Executive Director of the Global Research Program on Inequality. Bjørn’s research focuses on politics, protest, violence, egalitarianism, and questions of urbanity in Africa and more globally. Along with numerous articles, he has published several books on these topics.

Ajantha Subramanian

Ajantha Subramanian is a Professor at Harvard University. Her research interests include political economy, ecology, colonialism, space, citizenship in South Asia, including the South Asian Diaspora. She authored Shorelines: Space and Rights in South India and The Caste of Merit: Engineering Education in India.

Project Affiliates

Marieke Winchell

Marieke Winchell is Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago; her research covers racial and gender vulnerabilities and colonial labor subjection and land dispossession. She is the author of After Servitude: Elusive Property and the Ethics of Kinship in Bolivia and working on two book projects, Ghostly Invasions: Political Theologies of Fire in Post-Coup Bolivia and The Servant’s Properties: Materiality, Gender, and More-than-Human Landscapes in 20th Century Bolivia.

Jessica Judson

Jessica Judson is a Senior Research Associate at the University of Minnesota, studying the impact of structural racism on police violence against black people and other people of colour in the U.S. She is examining the impact of county-level correlates of structural racism on the racial disparity in police violence victimisation across the United States.

Felix Lussem

Felix Lussem is a Research Assistant at the University of Cologne, Germany. His research addresses shifting spatial and temporal orders in negotiations of “global crises” in Germany with a regional focus on Rhineland’s lignite mining area. He is the author of Alienating “facts” and Uneven Futures of Energy Transition.

Adam Hassan

Adam Hassan is a Ph.D. student at the University of California-Berkeley, studying the digital and material geographies of cryptocurrency mining and how it is changing relationships between communities, the state and energy infrastructures, particularly in Lebanon.

Sibahle Ndwayana

Sibahle Ndwayana is a Ph.D. student at the University of California-Berkeley, His dissertation aims to reorient Blackness within Black Geographies and Black Studies by focusing on a geosonic understanding of Cabo Verde, he examines how sound plays a role in the spatial (re)production of Cabo Verde, including how sound shapes and is shaped by racial capitalism and colonialism.