Ambient Air: Kolkata’s Bicycle Politics and Post-Carbon Futures


1Western Sydney University, , Australia

What political topographies does air pollution create? How do bicyclists in large South Asian cities experience, navigate, and mobilize these topographies? In seeking to answer these questions, this paper argues that air politics, i.e., the various registers through which air is mobilized, imagined, and experienced, are intrinsically terrestrial in nature. Ethnographic attention to degraded air raises both the possibility of post-carbon imaginaries in the age of the Anthropocene as well as the indispensability of bicycles in the lives of impoverished and activist cyclists who rely on them to make a living and to stake claims about mitigating climate change. By paying close ethnographic attention to the lives of Kolkata’s cyclists, I posit that the city’s seemingly emergent pollution crisis has much deeper roots in the unevenness of colonialism, post-colonial electoral democracy, and everyday struggles for road space and legitimacy.


Malini Sur is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society and teaches anthropology at Western Sydney University. She holds a PhD from the University of Amsterdam (2012). Her research addresses three lines of inquiry – agrarian borders, urban space and environment. The first examines fences, transnational flows, and citizenship. A second line of inquiry explores the relationship that mobility has to urban space, and specifically, with regard to bicycling and construction sites across Asian cities. Finally, she examines the afterlives of natural disasters, air pollution, and climate change. As an anthropologist, she researches these themes historically and with keen attention to visual representation. She has conducted fieldwork in Bangladesh and India, and with South Asian asylum seekers in Belgium.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

Photo Credits: Visit Victoria

© 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd