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“Put on a jacket, you wuss”: cultural identities, home heating, and air pollution in Christchurch, New Zealand

  • Linguistics


Central heating, insulation, and double glazing, such as you might find in many countries with colder climates in the northern hemisphere, are virtually lacking in Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island. In this city, houses tend to be inadequately heated and rely primarily on a combination of open fires, log burners, and electrical heaters. This form of home heating, combined with local climatic and topographical factors, results in high levels of wintertime air pollution. While much research has been conducted into the air-pollution problem in Christchurch to date, this research has focused on physical contaminants and their effects on health, rather than on the ways in which air pollution is socially and culturally mediated and on the sense-making practices of those who create pollution and suffer its effects. Based on information drawn from focus groups, we argue that reluctance to change behaviour results partly from investments in particular cultural identities which are tied into hegemonic masculinities and understandings of national identity, such as the masculine pioneer heritage established during the colonial period. We also explore the spatial relationships that air pollution plays out within and on the ‘body’ and how it transcends and weakens the bounded body. We believe that analyses which draw on theories of hybridisation, embodiment, identity, and discourse, and which highlight the links between modes of behaviour, identity and sense of place, and the interactions between humans and nonhumans, are able to shed new light on our understandings of public perceptions and responses to air pollution in Christchurch.

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