Postcolonial Atmospheres: Air’s Coloniality and the Climate of Enclosure

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This article urges a consideration of the atmospheric afterlives of fossil-fueled imperialism as not just accumulated gases and particles but also durable spatial dispositions governing how atmospheres are felt, arranged, and imagined. Focusing on the contemporary air pollution crisis in India, it analyzes how governmental responses to death-dealing airs today draw from colonial logics of bodily sequestration from outside threats, partaking in a climate of enclosure. Using archival, legal, and media sources, it excavates the imperial traces of three atmos-spheres, or spaces within which air is imagined, contained, or governed. The first is the Indian lung, an object of exoticized medical interest since the late nineteenth century. Tracing the reemergence of racialized claims of “deficient” Indian lung capacity, the article shows how a colonial epistemology of tropical otherness produces a strategic imperceptibility of today’s pollution-induced illness. The second is the colonial hill station, where colonial theories of medical topography shape present-day discourses of “lung-cleansing” hill vacations, casting atmospheric vulnerability as a natural condition of the tropical plains—the only solution to which is escape. The third is the privatized air offered through air pollution masks and purifiers, which draw from colonial practices of architecture and dress premised on a presumption that “the outside” is a zone of inherent biophysical risk. These three atmospheres together confirm that until the climate of enclosure is challenged, investments in sequestration will supersede structural efforts to produce air otherwise. The article also urges consideration of non-European atmospheres to understand how normative racial categories are reinforced through models of atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1483-1502
Number of pages20
JournalAnnals of the American Association of Geographers
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


  • Anthropocene
  • atmosphere
  • colonial science
  • health geographies
  • political ecology
  • postcolonial cities
  • waste


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