Axe 3 - Education et savoirs au Sud

GLOBALSMOG. Researching air pollution in cities of the Global South

Axe de rattachement au Ceped : Axe 3 - Éducation et Savoirs au Sud

Responsables scientifiques

  • HOURCADE Renaud, CNRS, Centre Emile Durkheim
  • LEFEBVRE Bertrand, EHESP, ARENES & Institut Français de Pondichéry

Partenariats dans le pays de recherche

Institut Français de Pondichéry

Membres du Ceped participant au projet



Air pollution is a global environmental and health problem. Air pollution is involved in a large range of preventable diseases, such as asthma, cardiovascular pathologies and some types of cancer (Pope et al., 2002). According to WHO (2016), it plays a direct role in 4.2 million death worldwide each year. Urban dwellers in the Global South bear most of this burden : Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) countries account for 90 % of the mortality associated with ambient air pollution. Current trends and forecasts are not encouraging : while progress is being made at fast pace in some emerging countries such as China, the situation is worsening in a large majority of cities in Africa, South Asia and South East Asia. Air pollution is therefore becoming a pressing health, economic and social threat in the Global South.
By all accounts, the situation is alarming. But despite the alerts raised by scientists and international organizations such as WHO or UNEP, public policies aimed at improving urban air quality remain underdeveloped or ineffective in a majority of Global South cities. Even when these policies do exist and objectives are set, numerous obstacles hinder the implementation processes. This “inconsistent policy making” (Künzli et al., 2015) is not fully understood because the literature has not taken up the question : “whereas research tackles the question of inequity of exposure to air pollution within cities and countries, policy discrepancies between countries are not much discussed” (ibid). Indeed, the knowledge on ambient air contamination sources, population exposure, effects on health and the environment has tremendously improved over the past twenty years, but this progress has hardly been matched by similar advancement in our understanding of how the issue is concretely conceptualized and addressed on the policy side.
This project has been designed with this scientific challenge in view. Its core objective is to identify and explain the technical, social and political processes that negatively or positively influence the management of air pollution, and through this study to improve the theoretical and practical knowledge on urban and multilevel public policy processes in the Global South. The underpinning hypothesis is that the issue of air pollution undergoes, in every local context, a complex process of translation, appropriation and reshaping that defines its political salience, the favored mode of policy action and instruments, and the balance with other priorities. Working with the tools of the sociology of science, urban geography, political anthropology and the sociology of policy-making, researchers involved in this project will explore the social construction of ambient air pollution both as a global and as local issue, the way it is embedded in socio-technical representations of health, the environment and the economy. With this specific knowledge in hand, they will highlight the processes through which the issue of air pollution circulates but also how it is apprehended and addressed according to specific local configurations.

Research Objectives

  • Objective 1 | To better understand the role of international cooperation and globalization processes for the framing of air pollution issues and circulation of knowledge
  • Objective 2 | To better understand the interplay between scientific knowledge and policy in the context of the Global South
  • Objective 3 | To explain and analyse the local social processes of issue framing and agenda setting around ambient air pollution in LMIC cities
  • Objective 4 | To analyse cross-sectoral policy making in the context of large LMIC cities
  • Objective 5 | To formulate policy recommendations in order to foster better policymaking and implementation for the cities of the Global South


Pollution, gouvernance, environnement, études urbaines, sud global

Zone géographique (terrains de recherche)

Inde, Kenya, Ghana, Thaïlande, Vietnam


  • Début du projet : 2021
  • Fin du projet : décembre 2025


Courriel : mathieu.quet chez

Site web :

Résultats et valorisation

En cours