Postcolonial geographies of urban precarity: race, pollution, and everyday life in Hounslow
Foregrounded by decades of austerity and ecological degradation, COVID-19 drew back the veneer of the welfare state and revealed with stark clarity the uneven distribution of premature death across the world. One such impacted community was the multicultural London borough of Hounslow; where nearly 100 deaths annually are caused by poor air quality and some 400 residents’ dwell in insecure housing; so-called beds-in- sheds (BBC News 2014; Hounslow Council 2020). This is in a context where nearby Heathrow airport both pollutes the area, whilst depending on its undervalued reserve of ‘key’ workers (Oxford Economics 2020). Here, residents from a variety of ethnicities and religious backgrounds negotiate property and labour insecurities, air pollution, and a pandemic; which conspire to form a mutually reinforcing system that current urban work on the global North is inadequate to understand. As such, Hounslow demands a postcolonial revision of the term ‘precarity’ as a subjective, embodied way of being that is differentially distributed along lines of race (Butler 2011: 13). This project adopts ethnographic and participatory action-research methods to unearth links between housing, labour, environmental, and health precarities; interrogating how they are shaped by the unequalizing logics of racial capitalism, how they produce a protracted and invisbilised ecological ‘slow violence,’ and how residents endure through everyday practices of preservation.
Dr. Nithya Natarajan