In 2013, Sharad Chari published an insightful journal article titled “Detritus in Durban: Polluted Environs and the Biopolitics of Refusal,” which shed light on the struggles faced by residents of South Durban’s marginalised neighborhoods. As we reflect on the past, it is essential to connect this work with the present efforts of Habitable Air, a project addressing the complex relationship between urban inequality, political divisions, and the pressing challenges of pollution and climate change in South Africa, Germany, and the United States. Notably, Sharad Chari, the author of the journal article, is a Senior Researcher on Habitable Air, further emphasising the significance of this connection.
Chari’s study explored the experiences of residents in South Durban, particularly in Wentworth and Merebank, where industrial pollution has had a profound impact on the community. It examined the contrast between experts and former gang members in articulating the neighborhood’s social issues, revealing the differential representation and the struggle for recognition.
The article highlighted the concept of detritus, encompassing the waste, ruins, and ruination that affect people’s lives in these areas. Residents refused to accept their condition as detritus, displaying resilience and resistance in the face of environmental degradation and social inequalities. The article discussed the complexity of detritus, extending beyond environmental degradation to include social decay, crime, and drug-related issues. It emphasised the importance of recognising alternative narratives and perspectives that challenge dominant stereotypes and representations of marginalised communities.
Drawing on Chari’s article, the work of Habitable Air extends the understanding of the interrelated challenges facing urban communities. The project addresses the pressing issues of rapid urban inequality, the deepening political divisions within major democracies, and the escalating consequences of pollution and global warming. By connecting the struggles highlighted in Chari’s research to the broader context of Habitable Air, we can recognise the shared concerns and the urgent need for action across different geographical contexts.
In South Africa, where Chari’s study was conducted, urban inequality remains a significant issue. Habitable Air builds upon this understanding, examining how urban inequality intersects with political divisions and environmental crises. By engaging with communities in South Africa, Germany, and the United States, the project aims to uncover the complex dynamics and interconnectedness of these challenges while identifying potential solutions and pathways toward more equitable and sustainable urban environments.
The research conducted by Sharad Chari and his involvement in Habitable Air underscore the ongoing relevance of his study from 2013. It serves as a foundation for understanding the struggles faced by marginalised communities and the need for comprehensive approaches to address urban inequality, political divisions, and the impact of pollution and climate change. By building upon this knowledge and connecting it to current efforts, Habitable Air aims to catalyze meaningful change and contribute to a more just and habitable future for all.
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