Domesticizing slow disasters: intimate evidence, DIY activism and environmental justice

Prof  Manuel Tironi

Pontifical Catholic University of Chile



Chronic disasters such as atmospheric pollution creep slowly yet vitally into view and sentience. Toxicants are lived and felt in the register domesticity and affect, rendering themselves perceptible through cough, itchy eyes, dust coating daily objects and other unspectacular situations inseparable from life’s embodied situatedness. The lived experiences of those who suffer unfold in the intimate spaces of the home and the garden, and their coping strategies are inseparable from subdued practices of family life—yet atmospheric contamination is obdurately monitored at abstracted scales and experiences, tactics sensibilities of those who suffer are discarded as invalid forms of knowing and intervening. In this paper I turn to an experimental exercise of citizen sensing of PM2.5 using DIY sensors in Puchuncaví, Chile. The experiment involved doing indoor monitoring for several weeks as a way to problematize the boundaries between the public and the private in policy discourses around contamination in Puchuncaví. Drawing on an ethnographic account of the experiment, in this presentation I want to think about how slow disasters get “caught” in the logics, matters and spaces of domestic life and kinship relationality, and what are the political affordances of producing and collectivizing pollution data at the domestic scale. The larger point of the presentation is the need to recognize interface between intimate evidence, data production and citizen participation as a critical site for the enlivenment of more open and locally-sensitive modes of environmental justice.



Short Bio

Manuel Tironi is Associate Professor at the Instituto de Sociología at P. Universidad Católica de Chile, where he co-leads the Critical Studies on the Anthropocene group ( He is also principal investigator at CIGIDEN, the Center for Integrated Research on Disaster Risk Reduction. His latest projects have engaged with issues of toxicity, environmental justice, politics of care, geologic modes of knowing, and indigenous disaster knowledge.