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Pathways in Air Pollution Governance in Indian Cities: From Education to Science to Governance

Air pollution has received escalating attention in recent years, with leading international bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) now identifying air pollution as the world’s largest single environmental health risk: the WHO attributes one out of every eight global deaths to air pollution exposure, a staggering 7 million premature deaths in 2012 (WHO 2015). Air pollution has been an especially important flashpoint in India. A recent WHO study places as many as 13 Indian cities among the 20 most polluted cities in the world, with Delhi placed at the very top of this list. The need for coordinated ressponse is clear. But understanding and governing air pollution is remarkably complex and almost always controversial – because of tension between economic and environmental priorities, because the science is multi-dimensional and difficult to translate into policy, and because environmental health stressors can be difficult to source and mitigate. Understanding and addressing air pollution thus requires remarkable coordination among different scientific fields, different government agencies and scales of government. This research will advance understanding of the social dynamics of coordinating knowledge production as a key governance challenge.

The research will examine different ways scientific capacity has been developed and used in air pollution governance in four Indian metros (Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Pune). The research will examine stakeholder roles and perspectives, links between policy domains (especially environment, transportation,health, and education), and links across scale (urban, state, national, and international). The goal is to characterize different education-to- science-to- policy pathways, and distinctive modes or “styles” of environmental health and risk governance.


Dr. Kim Fortun

Kim Fortun is a cultural anthropologist and Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Her research and teaching focus on environmental risk and disaster, and on experimental ethnographic methods and research design. Her research has examined how people in different geographic and organizational contexts understand environmental problems, uneven distributions of environmental health risks, developments in the environmental health sciences, and factors that contribute to disaster vulnerability.

Dr. Aalok Khandekar

Aalok Khandekar is a scholar of contemporary India; his work is interdisciplinary in nature, drawing particularly on the fields of Cultural Anthropology, Science and Technology Studies, and South Asian Studies. Khandekar received his Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, USA, and has since held postdoctoral and lecturer appointments at the Department of Technology and Society Studies at Maastricht University, the Netherlands.

Khandekar’s past and ongoing research projects hone in on the interplay of science, technology, and culture in a rapidly globalizing India: in different research projects, he investigates the production, valuation, and circulation of Indian technoscientific expertise under contemporary conditions of globalization. Of particular interest to Khandekar have been Indian scientists and engineers as ethnographic actors.

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