Breathing in the Anthropocene: Thinking Through Scale with Containment Technologies

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Alison Kenner
Aftab Mirzaei
Christy Spackman


Thinking at the scale of the Anthropocene highlights the significant burden on all life imposed by the residues of industrialization as well as continued pollution. But it also risks a disconnect between the functioning of planetary atmospheres and the functioning of local airs. In this thought-piece, we consider together the potato chip bag, the asthma inhaler, and climate positive building design as scalar practices of Anthropocene air. By figuring Anthropocene air as an interscalar vehicle, we show connections between matter and relations that seem distant and disconnected. We do this by honing in on respiration as a transformative atmospheric process that has been designed in advanced capitalism to extend life for some, while denying life for others. We point to seconds, hours, days, weeks, and seasons to highlight how containment technologies and respiratory processes function in the Anthropocene to remake air. These technologies and practices, which all too often go unnoticed in consumption landscapes, demonstrate that despite Anthropocene air’s tendency to exceed human agency, it is liable to engineering. Doing this offers insight into where different scales of action can be mobilized.

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An Elemental Anthropocene