Breathing Late Industrialism

  • Chloe Ahmann Cornell University
  • Alison Kenner


Breakdown, trespass, seepage, degradation: this is late industrialism. Over the past decade, the term has become synonymous with collapse, describing everything from crumbling infrastructure to outmoded paradigms. But the “late” in “late industrial” carries radical potential, too. It points toward the possibility of another world taking shape within the wreckage as people retrofit broken systems, build flexible coalitions, and work creatively with time. In this collection, we train our eyes on these refashionings, asking how late industrial systems might be put to life-affirming work. Specifically, we track cases where breath, air, and atmosphere help inaugurate a “phase shift” (Choy and Zee 2015) from breakdown toward worlds otherwise. Breath has sentinel qualities: it can warn of trouble in the air. But it is also an animating force. Taking conceptual cues from this duality, contributors attend to late industrialism as it is sensed and transformed into something vital.

Author Biographies

Chloe Ahmann, Cornell University

Chloe Ahmann is an Assistant Professor of in the Department of Anthropology at Cornell. Her work is set in Baltimore, and considers what efforts to think and enact environmental futures look like from the sedimented space of late industrialism. For more information and links to recent publications, see

Alison Kenner

Alison Kenner is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Drexel University. She is the author of Breathtaking: Asthma Care in a Time of Climate Change.


Agard-Jones, Vanessa. 2013. “Bodies in the System.” Small Axe 17(3):182–92.

Ahmann, Chloe. 2018. “‘It’s exhausting to create an event out of nothing’: Slow Violence and the Manipulation of Time.” Cultural Anthropology 33(1):142–71.

----------. 2019. “Waste to energy: Garbage Prospects and Subjunctive Politics in Late‐industrial Baltimore.” American Ethnologist 46(3):328–342.

----------. 2020. “Atmospheric Coalitions: Shifting the Middle in Late Industrial Baltimore.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 6:416–438.

Ahmed, Sara. 2017. Living a Feminist Life. Durham: Duke University Press.

Allen, Barbara. 2003. Uneasy Alchemy: Citizens and Experts in Louisiana’s Chemical Corridor Disputes. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Allen, Irma Kinga. 2020. “Thinking with a Feminist Political Ecology of Air-and-breathing-bodies.” Body and Society 26(2):79–105.

Auyero, Javier and Debora Swistun. 2008. “The Social Production of Scientific Uncertainty.” American Sociological Review 73(3):357–79.

Babidge, Sally. 2019. “Sustaining Ignorance: The Uncertainties of Groundwater and its Extraction in the Salar de Atacama, Northern Chile. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 25(1):83–102.

Barad, Karen. 2003. “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28(3):801–31.

Beck, Ulrich. 1992. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: SAGE Publications.

Benjamin, Ruha. 2016. “Catching Our Breath: Critical Race STS and the Carceral Imagination.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 2:145–56.

Benson, Peter and Stuart Kirsch. 2010. “Capitalism and the Politics of Resignation.” Current Anthropology 51(4):459–86.

Berlant, Lauren. 2011. Cruel Optimism. Durham: Duke University Press.

Blanchette, Alex. 2019. “Living Waste and the Labor of Toxic Health on American Factory Farms.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 33(1):80–100.

----------. 2020. Porkopolis: American Animality, Standardized Life, and the Factory Farm. Durham: Duke University Press.

Boudia, Soraya, Angela N.H. Creager, Scott Frinkel, Emmanuel Henry, Nathalie Jas, Carsten Reinhardt, and Jody A. Roberts. 2018. “Residues: Rethinking Chemical Environments.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 4:165–78.

Boyd, William. 2012. “Genealogies of Risk: Searching for Safety, 1930s–1970s.” Ecology Law Quarterly 39(4):895–987.

Brand, Dionne. 2015. Verso 55. Unpublished manuscript cited in Sharpe,

Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham: Duke University Press.

Braun, Lundy. 2014. Breathing Race into the Machine: The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Brown, Phil. 2007. Toxic Exposures: Contested Illnesses and the Environmental Health Movement. New York: Columbia University Press.

Brown, Phil and Edwin Mikkelson. 1997. No Safe Place: Toxic Waste, Leukemia, and Community Action. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bullard, Robert D. 2000 [1990]. Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class, and Environmental Quality. Boulder: Westview Press.

Calvillo, Nerea. 2018. “Political Airs: From Monitoring to Attuned Sensing Air Pollution.” Social Studies of Science 48(3):372–88.

Cerrell Associates, Inc. 1984. “Political Difficulties Facing Waste-to-Energy Conversion Plant Siting.” Report prepared for the California Waste Management Board.

Choy, Timothy. 2011. Ecologies of Comparison: An Ethnography of Endangerment in Hong Kong. Durham: Duke University Press.

----------. 2016. “Distribution.” Fieldsights, Cultural Anthropology, January 21.

----------. 2018. “Tending to Suspension: Abstraction and Apparatuses of Atmospheric Attunement in Matsutake Worlds.” Social Analysis 62(4):54–77.

----------. 2020. “A Commentary: Breathing Together Now.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 6:586–590.

Choy, Timothy and Jerry Zee. 2015. “Condition—Suspension.” Cultural Anthropology 30(2):210–23.

Connolly, William E. 2017. Facing the Planetary: Entangled Humanism and the Politics of Swarming. Durham: Duke University Press.

Corburn, Jason. 2005. Street Science: Community Knowledge and Environmental Health Justice. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Diedrich, Andrea M. 2006. “Aesthetic Issues for Drinking Water.” Journal of Water and Health 4(S1):11–16.

Dillon, Lindsey. 2014. “Race, Waste, and Space: Brownfield Redevelopment and Environmental Justice at the Hunter’s Point Shipyard.” Antipode 46(5):1205–21.

Dillon, Lindsey and Julie Sze. 2016. “Police Power and Particulate Matters: Environmental Justice and the Spatialities of In/Securities in US Cities.” English Language Notes 54(2):13–23.

Ducre, K. Animashaun and Eli Moore. 2011. “Extending the Time Line of Environmental Justice Claims: Redlining Map Digitization Project.” Environmental Practice 13(4):325–39.

Dumit, Joseph. 2017. “Game Design as STS Research.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 3:603–12.

Eckel, William P., Michael B. Rabinowitz, and Gregory D. Foster. 2001. “Discovering Unrecognized Lead-smelting Sites by Historical Methods.” American Journal of Public Health 91(4):625–27.

Fortun, Kim. 2012. “Ethnography in Late Industrialism.” Cultural Anthropology 27(3):446–64.

----------. 2014. “From Latour to Late Industrialism.” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 4(1):309–29.

Fortun, Kim, Scott Knowles, Louis Felipe Murillo, Paul Jobin, Max Liboiron, Pedro de la Torre, Vivian Choi, and Miwao Matsumo. 2017. “Researching Disaster from an STS Perspective.” In Ulrike Felt, Rayvon Fouché, Clark A. Miller, and Laurel Smith-Doerr. In The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, Fourth Edition, 1003–28. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Frickel, Scott and James R. Elliot. 2018. Sites Unseen: Uncovering Hidden Hazards in American Cities. New York: Russel Sage Foundation.

Friedman, Lisa. 2020. “Coronavirus Doesn’t Slow Trump’s Regulatory Rollbacks.” New York Times, March 25, 2020.

Garnett, Emma. 2020. “Breathing Spaces: Modelling Exposure in Air Pollution Science.” Body and Society 26(2):55–78.

Goldstein, Donna M. and Kira Hall. 2015. “Mass Hysteria in Le Roy, New York: How Brain Experts Materialized Truth and Outscienced Environmental Inquiry.” American Ethnologist 42(4):640–57.

Górska, Magdalena. 2016. Breathing Matters: Feminist Intersectional Politics of Vulnerability. Linköping: Linköping University Press.

Graeter, Stefanie. 2020. “Infrastructural Incorporations: Toxic Storage, Corporate Indemnity, and Ethical Deferral in Peru’s Neoextractive Era.” American Anthropologist 122(1):21–36.

Grandia, Liza. 2020. “Toxic Gaslighting: On the Ins and Outs of Pollution.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 6:486–513.

Grant, Sonia. 2020. “Aggregate Airs: Atmospheres of Oil and Gas in the Greater Chaco.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 6:534–554.

Habtom, Sefanit and Megan Scribe. 2020. “To Breathe Together: Co-

conspirators for Decolonial Futures.” Yellowhead Institute, June 2, 2020.

Hartman, Saidiya. 2019. Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Hepler-Smith, Evan. 2019. “Molecular Bureaucracy: Toxicological Information and Environmental Protection.” Environmental History 24(3):534–60.

Hess, David J. 2016. Undone Science: Social Movements, Mobilized Publics, and Industrial Transitions. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Howe, Cymene. 2014. “Anthropocentric Ecoauthority: The Winds of Oaxaca.” Anthropological Quarterly 87(2):381–404.

----------. 2015. “Life Above Earth: An Introduction.” Cultural Anthropology 30(2):203–09.

----------. 2019. Ecologics: Wind and Power in the Anthropocene. Durham: Duke University Press.

Howe, Cymene, Jessica Lockrem, Hannah Appel, Edward Hackett, Dominic Boyer, Randal Hall, Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, Albert Pope, Akhil Gupta, Elizabeth Rodwell, Andrea Ballestero, Trevor Durbin, Farès el-Dahdah, Elizabeth Long, and Cyrus Mody. 2015. “Paradoxical Infrastructures: Ruins, Retrofit, and Risk.” Science, Technology, and Human Values 41(3):547–65.

Jasanoff, Sheila. 1990. The Fifth Branch: Science Advisors as Policymakers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Jobson, Ryan Cecil. 2020. “The Case for Letting Anthropology Burn: Sociocultural Anthropology in 2019.” American Anthropologist 122(2):259–71.

Kenner, Alison. 2018. Breathtaking: Asthma Care in a Time of Climate Change. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

----------. 2020. “Scrapping the Workshop of the World: Civic Infrastructuring and the Politics of Late Industrial Governance.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 6:514–533.

----------. Forthcoming. “Emplaced Care and Atmospheric Politics in Unbreathable Worlds.” Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space.

Kenner, Alison, Aftab Mirzaei, and Christy Spackman. 2019. “Breathing in the Anthropocene: Thinking Through Scale with Containment Technologies.” Cultural Studies Review 25(2):153–71.

Kinchy, Abby and Guy Schaffer. 2018. “Disclosure Conflicts: Crude Oil Trains, Fracking Chemicals, and the Politics of Transparency.” Science, Technology, and Human Values 43(6):1011–38.

King, Tiffany Lethabo. 2019. The Black Shoals: Offshore Formations of Black and Native Studies. Durham: Duke University Press.

Knowles, Scott Gabriel. 2014. “Learning from Disaster? The History of Technology and the Future of Disaster Research.” Technology and Culture 55(4):773–84.

Kuletz, Valerie. 1998. The Tainted Desert: Environmental Ruin in the American West. New York: Routledge.

Landa, Mónica Salas. 2016. “Crude Residues: The Workings of Failing Oil Infrastructure in Poza Rica, Veracruz, Mexico.” Environment and Planning A 48(4):718–35.

Langwick, Stacey Ann. 2018. “A Politics of Habitability: Plants, Healing, and Sovereignty in a Toxic World.” Cultural Anthropology 33(3):415–43.

Lerner, Steve. 2010. Sacrifice Zones: The Front Lines of Toxic Chemical Exposure in the United States. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Liboiron, Max. 2017. “Compromised Agency: The Case of BabyLegs.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 3:499–527.

Liboiron, Max, Manuel Tironi, and Nerea Calvillo. 2018. “Toxic Politics: Acting in a Permanently Polluted World.” Social Studies of Science 48(3):331–49.

Little, Peter C. 2014. Toxic Town: IBM, Pollution, and Industrial Risks. New York: NYU Press.

----------. 2018. “Corporate Mortality Files and Late Industrial Necropolitics.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 32(2):161–76.

Livingston, Julie. 2019. Self-devouring growth: A Planetary Parable as Told From Southern Africa. Durham: Duke University Press.

Lorde, Audre. 2007 [1984].”The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches, 110–14. Berkeley: Crossing Press.

Lyons, Kristina. 2016. “Decomposition as Life Politics: Soils, Selva, and Small Farmers under the Gun of the U.S.-Colombian War on Drugs.” Cultural Anthropology 31(1):56–81.

Mah, Alice. 2012. Industrial Ruination, Community, and Place: Landscapes and Legacies of Urban Decline. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Marchi, Scott de and James T. Hamilton. 2006. “Assessing the Accuracy of Self-reported Data: An Evaluation of the Toxics Release Inventory.” Journal of Risk and Uncertainty 32:57–76.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. 1978 [1848]. “Manifesto of the Communist Party.” In Robert C. Tucker, ed. The Marx–Engels Reader, 469–500. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Masco, Joseph. 2006. The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

----------. 2013. “Side Effect.” Somatosphere, December 2.

----------. 2015. “The Age of Fallout.” History of the Present 5(2):137–68.

Matz, Jacob, Sara Wylie, and Jill Kriesky. 2017. “Participatory Air Monitoring in the Midst of Uncertainty: Residents’ Experiences with the Speck Sensor.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 3:464–98.

McCormack, Derek. 2008. “Engineering Affective Atmospheres on the Moving Geographies of the 1897 Andrée Expedition.” Cultural Geographies 15(4):413–30.

Mercado, Angely. 2020. “The BREATHE Act Would Defund Police—and Fund Environmental Justice.” GRIST, July 10, 2020.

Mitman, Gregg. 2007. Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Moncrieff, Lilian. 2017. “Trumpism and Being in Worlds that Fall between Worlds.” Law and Critique 28(2):127–33.

Murphy, Michelle. 2006. Sick Building System and the Problem of Uncertainty: Environmental Politics, Technoscience, and Women Workers. Durham: Duke University Press.

----------. 2008. “Chemical Regimes of Living.” Environmental History 23(4):695–703.

----------. 2017. “Alterlife and Decolonial Chemical Relations.” Cultural Anthropology 32(4):494–503.

Nading, Alex. 2019. “Ethnography in a Grievance: Documentary Mechanisms in Nicaragua’s Chronic Kidney Disease Epidemic. Medicine Anthropology Theory 6(2):193–210.

Nash, Linda. 2006. Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease, and Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Neale, Timothy, Will Smith, and Alison Kenner. 2019. “Introduction: An Elemental Anthropocene.” Cultural Studies Review 25(2):109–14.

Nguyen, Victoria. 2020. “Breathless in Beijing: Aerial Attunements and China’s New Respiratory Publics.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 6:439–461.

Nixon, Rob. 2011. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Nost, Eric, Kelsey Breseman, Steve Hansen, Leslie Alanis, Megan Raisle, Lourdes Vera, Maalvika Bhat, Sara Wylie, Sung-Gheel Jang, and EDGI. 2020. “More Permission to Pollute: The Decline of EPA Enforcement and Industry Compliance during COVID.” Environmental Data & Governance Initiative, August 13, 2020.

Oreskes, Naomi and Erik M. Conway. 2010. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. New York: Bloomsbury.

Ottinger, Gwen. 2017. “Crowdsourcing Undone Science.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 3:560–74.

Perrow, Charles. 1984. Normal Accidents: Living with High-risk Technologies. New York: Basic Books.

Pine, Jason. 2016. Last Chance Incorporated. Cultural Anthropology 31(2):297–318.

Pitkanen, Laura. 2020. “Tactics and Strategies of Containment: Preserving State Power in Canadian Uranium Refining. The Extractive Industries and Society 7(2):544–55.

Poje, Gerald V. and Daniel M. Horowitz. 1990. Phantom Reductions: Tracking Toxic Trends. Washington, DC: National Wildlife Foundation.

Power, Garrett. 1988. “The Unwisdom of Allowing City Growth to Work out Its Own Destiny.” Maryland Law Review 47(3): 626–74.

Proctor, Robert N. and Londa Schiebinger, eds. 2008. Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Reno, Joshua O. 2016. Waste Away: Working and Living with a North American Landfill. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Roberts, Elizabeth F.S. 2017. “What Gets Inside: Violent Entanglements and Toxic Boundaries in Mexico City.” Cultural Anthropology 32(4):592–619.

Rubin, Yale. 1999. “Expulsive Zoning: The Inequitable Legacy of Euclid.” In Charles M. Haar and Jerold S. Kayden, eds. Zoning and the American Dream: Promises Still to Keep, 101–21. Chicago: APA Press.

Shadaan, Reena and Michelle Murphy. 2020. “EDC’s as Industrial Chemicals and Settler Colonial Structures.” Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience 6(1):1–36.

Shapiro, Nicholas. 2015. “Attuning to the Chemosphere: Domestic Formaldehyde, Bodily Reasoning, and the Chemical Sublime.” Cultural Anthropology 30(3):368–93.

Shapiro, Nicholas and Eben Kirksey. 2017. Chemo-ethnography: An Introduction. Cultural Anthropology 32(4):481–93.

Shapiro, Nicholas, Nasser Zakaria, and Jody Roberts. 2017. “A Wary Alliance: From Enumerating the Environment to Inviting Apprehension.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 3:575–602.

Sharpe, Christina. 2016. In the Wake: On Blackness and Being. Durham: Duke University Press.

Silver, Christopher. 1997. “The Racial Origins of Zoning in American Cities.” In June Manning Thomas and Marsha Ritzdorf, eds. Urban Planning and the African-American Community: In the Shadows, 23–42. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Simmons, Kristen. 2017. “Settler Atmospherics.” Fieldsights, Cultural Anthropology, November 20, 2017.

Singh, Nitika, Vivek Kumar Gupta, Abhishek Kumar, and Bechan Sharma. 2017. “Synergistic Effects of Heavy Metals and Pesticides in Living Systems.” Frontiers in Chemistry 5:1–9.

Sloterdijk, Peter. 2009. Terror from the Air. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Spackman, Christy. 2020. “In Smell’s Shadow: Materials and Politics at the Edge of Perception.” Social Studies of Science 50(3):418–39.

Stewart, Kathleen. 2011. “Atmospheric Attunements.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 29(3):445–53.

Sze, Julie. 2006. Noxious New York: The Racial Politics of Urban Health and Environmental Justice. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Taylor, Keeanga-Yamahtta. 2020. “The Black Plague.” The New Yorker, April 16, 2020.

Tironi, Manuel. 2018. “Hypo-interventions: Intimate Activism in Toxic Environments.” Social Studies of Science 48(3):438–55.

Todd, Zoe. 2018. “Refracting the State through Human–Fish Relations: Fishing, Indigenous Legal Orders and Colonialism in North/Western Canada.” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education, and Society 7(1):60–75.

Tremblay, Jean-Thomas. 2019. “Feminist Breathing.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies 30(3): 92–117.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tuck, Eve. 2009. “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities.” Harvard Educational Review 79(3):409–27.

Vera, Lourdes A., Dawn Walker, Michelle Murphy, Becky Mansfield, Ladan Mohamed Siad, Jessica Ogden, and EDGI. 2019. "When data justice and environmental justice meet: formulating a response to extractive logic through environmental data justice.” Information, Communication, and Society 22(7):1012–28.

Villarosa, Linda. 2020. “The Refinery Next Door.” New York Times Magazine, August 2, 2020.

Vine, Michael. 2019. “Beyond Touch: Cultivating Caring Atmospheres in Arid America.” Journal for the Anthropology of North America 22(1):22–34.

Vonnegut, Kurt. 1969. Slaughterhouse-Five. New York: Delta.

Walley, Christine J. 2013. Exit Zero: Family and Class in Postindustrial Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Whitmarsh, Ian. 2008. Biomedical Ambiguity: Race, Asthma, and the Contested Meaning of Genetic Research in the Caribbean. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Williams, Kaya Naomi. 2017. “Public, Safety, Risk.” Social Justice 44(1):36–61.

Wylie, Sara, Nicholas Shapiro, and Max Liboiron. 2017. “Making and Doing Politics Through Grassroots Scientific Research on the Energy and Petrochemical Industries.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 3:393–425.

Young, Alison and Peter Eisler. 2012. “Some Neighborhoods Dangerously Contaminated by Lead Fallout.” USA Today, April 20, 2012.

Zahara, Alex. 2020. “Breathing Fire into Landscapes that Burn: Wildfire Management in a Time of Alterlife.” Engaging Science, Technology, and Society 6:555–585.

Zee, Jerry. 2015. “Breathing in the City: Beijing and the Architecture of Air.” Scapegoat: Architecture/Landscape/Political Economy 8:48–58.

----------. 2020. “Machine Sky: Social and Terrestrial Engineering on a Chinese Weather System.” American Anthropologist. 122(1):9–20.

10 Nov 2020
Thematic Collections