Perceptions of air pollution and health in social and geographical contexts
Air quality management is currently receiving attention in the UK, with limit objectives for air pollutants to be met within the next few years. Local authorities must put strategies in place in order to meet these objectives, and this must be done with public consultation. At present, policy decisions rely heavily on scientific and medical information, which is uncertain. This thesis examines the public view of air quality and air pollution, and its impacts on their lives and health, in different neighbourhoods in the London Borough of Barnet. The study takes place in four areas, contrasting in terms of levels of ambient air pollution, and in terms of socio-economic characteristics. In choosing contrasting areas, the research aims to examine the role of context in terms of social and geographical factors, in shaping people's perceptions and experience of air pollution and its effects. In doing so, air pollution is conceptualised as an environmental risk, and tensions between naive realist and constructionist framings of risk and its significance become important. Concepts of environmental equity are also considered. As well as examining understandings of air pollution and its potential health effects, the research looks at how such lay knowledge is formed, through both personal experience and the use of expert-produced information and institutional information sources. The relationship between lay knowledge and expertise is discussed and the latent significance of epistemological divergence considered. The research employs a mixed methodology comprising qualitative and quantitative techniques. A first stage of depth interviews, analysed qualitatively, is followed by a questionnaire survey which is analysed using statistical techniques. The epistemological implications of using such a research design are debated, and the possible benefits of using such a strategy are reflected on in the light of the empirical study.