Citizens of Worlds

Open-Air Toolkits for Environmental Struggle

2022
Author:

Jennifer Gabrys

An unparalleled how-to guide to citizen-sensing practices that monitor air pollution

Citizens of Worlds is the first thorough study of the increasingly widespread use of digital technologies to monitor and respond to air pollution. Drawing on data from the Citizen Sense research group, Jennifer Gabrys presents practice-based research on working with communities and making sensor toolkits to detect pollution while examining the political subjects, relations, and worlds these technologies generate. 

The planet, the region, the community, the neighborhood, the block—these are all sensoria: sites of sense, sensation, and sensibility. Citizens of Worlds offers a powerful and instructive report on how to create everyday sensor infrastructures to register and combat the damage these social sensoria are suffering amidst today’s compromised atmospheres and environments. A critical handbook for theory and action.

Stefan Helmreich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Modern environments are awash with pollutants churning through the air, from toxic gases and intensifying carbon to carcinogenic particles and novel viruses. The effects on our bodies and our planet are perilous. Citizens of Worlds is the first thorough study of the increasingly widespread use of digital technologies to monitor and respond to air pollution. It presents practice-based research on working with communities and making sensor toolkits to detect pollution while examining the political subjects, relations, and worlds these technologies generate.

Drawing on data from the Citizen Sense research group, which worked with communities in the United States and the United Kingdom to develop digital-sensor toolkits, Jennifer Gabrys argues that citizen-oriented technologies promise positive change but then collide with entrenched and inequitable power structures. She asks: Who or what constitutes a “citizen” in citizen sensing? How do digital sensing technologies enable or constrain environmental citizenship?

Spanning three project areas, this study describes collaborations to monitor air pollution from fracking infrastructure, to document emissions in urban environments, and to create air-quality gardens. As these projects show, how people respond to, care for, and struggle to transform environmental conditions informs the political subjects and collectives they become as they strive for more breathable worlds.

Retail e-book files for this title are screen-reader friendly with images accompanied by short alt text and/or extended descriptions.

Cover alt text: White background with grey and dark blue spiked orbs floating closely. Title/subtitle/author appear in blue and dark grey font at top.

Jennifer Gabrys is chair in Media, Culture, and Environment in the Department of Sociology at the University of Cambridge. She is author of How to Do Things with Sensors and Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (both published by Minnesota), as well as Digital Rubbish: A Natural History of Electronics.

The planet, the region, the community, the neighborhood, the block—these are all sensoria: sites of sense, sensation, and sensibility. Citizens of Worlds offers a powerful and instructive report on how to create everyday sensor infrastructures to register and combat the damage these social sensoria are suffering amidst today’s compromised atmospheres and environments. A critical handbook for theory and action.

Stefan Helmreich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In this timely and carefully crafted book, Jennifer Gabrys takes us on a fascinating journey to trace the multiple relations between citizens and their environments mediated though sensors. Throughout the book we encounter diverse sensing technologies, each making us reflect more deeply about how environments are made perceptible and how this allows us to act upon them in novel ways. The concept of ‘citizens of worlds’ sensitizes us to the multiple ways in which these novel experiences of the environment co-constitute political subjects. A mind-opening read inviting further explorations.

Ulrike Felt, University of Vienna

Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

Introduction: Atmospheric Citizens: How to Make Breathable Worlds

Toolkit 1. Citizen Sense Toolkit

1. Instrumental Citizens: How to Retool Action

Toolkit 2. Frackbox Toolkit

2. Speculative Citizens: How to Evidence Harm

Toolkit 3. Dustbox Toolkit

3. Data Citizens: How to Reinvent Rights

Toolkit 4. Phyto-Sensor Toolkit

4. Multiple Citizens: How to Cultivate Relations

Toolkit 5. AirKit Toolkit

Conclusion: Sensing Citizens: How to Collectivize Experience

Notes

Bibliography

Index