Case 3: The Class and Gender of Individual Air Pollution Exposure

Case 3 explores if and how gender and social class determine critical differences in levels of exposure to air pollutants, and in people’s ways of making sense of and reacting to pollution.

Photo: Mette H. Hansen

While there has been an explosion in news and media debates regarding ambient air pollution in Chinese cities,  the topic of indoor air pollution in poor rural areas remain practically invisible in the Chinese and global media.

Our hypothesis in case 3 is that gender and social class are key constituents in the processes by which some forms of pollution gain prominence above others in the public debates, in actual policy making, and in household negotiations of economic investments.

Ambient city pollution vs. indoor rural pollution

Rural women in poorer areas of China tend to be exposed to  health damaging air pollutants due to household cooking, and they may actually be more at risk than the much discussed urban middle class in polluted cities. In addition, some of the more polluting factories that are forced to move out of cities reestablish themselves in rural areas. In order to understand the significance of gender and social class in the context of air pollution science and politics, scholars specialized in air pollution chemistry and anthropology will work closely together to collect comparative data from one polluted urban city, and a small cluster of rural villages near by.

The team will assess and compare rural people’s exposure to indoor air pollution, as they use solid fuels for cooking, with that of urban middle class inhabitants who are exposed to high levels of ambient air pollution.


Survey among 150 rural and 150 urban households; two periods (winter and summer) of measurements of air pollution in 60 urban and 60 rural households; anthropological participant observation and interviews during the scientists' measurements; follow-up survey. These findings will be integrated with a media study of how certain forms of air pollution and certain regions gain prominence over others.


Published June 15, 2015 4:21 PM - Last modified Jan. 29, 2019 4:00 PM