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Culture of Skepticism:An Inquiry into the Socio-Political Life of Air Quality Digital Panels in Tehran

Sat, September 1, 9:00 to 10:30am, ICC, E5.1


As the long-term and short-term health and socioeconomic impacts of air pollution have become more apparent, various air pollution mitigation plans and policies have come into the sharp focus of governments across the world. These policies, however, have had complicated and diverse outcomes in different areas, with levels of air pollution in especially socioeconomically disadvantaged countries remaining high and rising annually. Promotion of the public awareness about air pollution is one of those complicated plans that has been improved a lot over the years, and various governments have employed particular devices to disseminate air quality data. Therefore, making information on air quality data more accessible to the public has been one of the critical, yet less studied environmental projects, aiming at empowering citizens to take protective actions or actively engage in the air pollution control plans. Nevertheless, varying interpretations and evaluations of air quality information by people, coupled with the particular sociopolitical context of the air pollution in a city may compound to produce unexpected behaviors and perceptions that may serve to discourage rather than reinforce civic engagement. This paper, accordingly, seeks to explore lay people’s engagement with the environmental risk information, and practices of compliance, ignorance, and resistance taken by citizens toward the devices of risk communication, principally air quality digital panels installed in Tehran, Iran. Providing ethnographic evidence, I critique the governmentality and related literature on risk communication by noting how people in my study did not simply govern their behavior in accordance with expert risk knowledge but, in fact, orient to risk information in different ways. The key findings of my analysis are how people in Tehran express skepticism over air quality data, which seems to be less about science than about the state-sponsored nature of the information and the environmental digital panels.