LSTM Home > LSTM Research > LSTM Online Archive

Exploring Smoke: An ethnographic study of air pollution in rural Malawi

Saleh, Sepeedeh, Sambakunsi, Henry, Mortimer, Kevin ORCID:, Morton, Ben ORCID:, Rylance, Jamie ORCID:, Kumwenda, Moses and Chinouya, Martha (2021) 'Exploring Smoke: An ethnographic study of air pollution in rural Malawi'. BMJ Global Health, Vol 6, Issue 6, e004970.

[img] Text
Exploring Smoke - Sepeedeh Saleh.docx - Accepted Version

Download (948kB)
e004970.full.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (906kB) | Preview


Air pollution adversely affects human health, and the climate crisis intensifies the global imperative for action. Low- and Middle- Income Countries (LMIC) suffer particularly high attributable disease burdens. In rural low-resource settings these are linked to cooking using biomass. Proposed biomedical solutions to air pollution typically involve ‘improved cooking technologies’, often introduced by high income country research teams.

This ethnography, set in a rural Malawian village, aimed to understand air pollution within its social and environmental context. The results provide a multifaceted account through immersive participant observations with concurrent air quality monitoring, interviews, and participatory workshops. Data included quantitative measures of individuals’ air pollution exposures paired with activity, qualitative insights into how smoke is experienced in daily life throughout the village, and participants’ reflections on potential cleaner air solutions.

Individual air quality monitoring demonstrated that particulate levels frequently exceeded upper limits recommended by the WHO, even in the absence of identified sources of biomass burning. Ethnographic findings revealed the overwhelming impact of economic scarcity on individual air pollution exposures. Scarcity affected air pollution exposures through three pathways: daily hardship, limitation, and precarity. We use the theory of structural violence, as described by Paul Farmer, and the concept of slow violence to interrogate the origins of this scarcity and global inequality. We draw on the ethnographic findings to critically consider sustainable approaches to cleaner air, without re-enacting existing systemic inequities.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: WA Public Health > Health Problems of Special Population Groups > WA 395 Health in developing countries
WA Public Health > Air pollution > WA 750 Air sanitation and hygiene
Faculty: Department: Clinical Sciences & International Health > Clinical Sciences Department
Digital Object Identifer (DOI):
Depositing User: Julie Franco
Date Deposited: 02 Jul 2021 15:16
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2021 15:16


View details

Actions (login required)

Edit Item Edit Item