Urban atmospheres

I have become increasingly fascinated by the “affective atmospheres” of late modernity, connecting with the study of light, sound, and other facets to the multi-sensory study of urban space.  The post-humanist challange to the idea of the bounded human subject opens up new lines of reflection and analysis.  I am interested in emerging fields of conceptual dialogue between historical materialism and affect theory.

Attentive observation

A botanical transect is an embodied methodology par excellence: the systematic recording of plant life involves not just training the eye to notice small details, using sophisticated forms of pattern recognition, but also the use of other sensory clues such as smell to help identify specific plants, haptic interactions with leaves to explore their surface textures, and an awareness of small variations in light and shade, to produce an “incidental sensorium” that is open to the unexpected.  I explore some of these issues in my essay “Queering the transect” and I am also writing a longer essay about walking methodologies and the urban sensorium.

The urban Anthropocene

It is striking that most of the significant theoretical work in relation to the Anthropocene has only engaged indirectly with the urban arena.  There are parallels here with the first wave of political ecology literature in the 1980s that focused predominantly on a rural or global South context.   The Anthropocene debate has had an uncertain articulation with urbanization beyond the identification of specific empirical parameters or material traces.   I have begun to explore these issues with a paper on urban biodiversity and will be developing these ideas further in my next book where I consider the role of “urban refugia” in relation to the sixth mass extinction.

Urban epidemiology

I have a longstanding interest in public health, urban epidemiology, and corporeal geographies.  I initially explored these themes in relation to the development of modern cities through the provision of water infrastructure and other basic services.  I have also developed the question of disease in relation to the resurgence of  tuberculosis, the history of malaria, and the presence of complex boundary phenomena such as multiple-chemical sensitivity.  In my current work on urban nature I am interested in expanded conceptions of other-than-human geographies that extend to zoonoses and neglected facets of urban entomology.

There is significant scope for a critically reworked political ecology, in combination with new insights into the independent agency of nature, to explore evolving relationships between human health and the urban environment. Although existing studies within environmental history and other fields have emphasized the role of infrastructure networks and other measures against the threat of water-borne disease these insights can be extended to other socio-ecological and epidemiological dimensions of urban space.

Documentary filmmaking

I am interested in the use of film as a research methodology.  Documentary filmmaking can be conceived as a series of choices where a putative “reality” — or at least a cinematic semblance of the real — becomes framed, deciphered, represented, and ultimately enters an intertextual and fluid domain of meaning. A documentary faces a series of constraints in terms of how to convey its purpose, how to indicate varying degrees of verisimilitude, and how to connect with diverse audiences.  With my first film Liquid City (2007) I explored cultural and political dimensions to water and urban infrastructure in Mumbai with a particular emphasis on the use of interviews interspersed with everyday life and urban landscapes.  My most recent film Natura Urbana (2017) also uses interviews but draws on extensive archival footage to develop a historical document in its own right.