Society for East Asian Anthropology
Anthropology And Environment Society
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
This paper explores changing parenting practices and anxieties in the context of worsening air quality in South Korea. While in previous decades ambient air pollution was mainly associated with the “yellow dust” (hwangsa) that blew over from the Gobi desert for a discrete period each spring, the term hwangsa has been almost entirely replaced in the media and public discussion by the term misaemŏnji, or “microparticles.” Microparticles—which are not merely “dust” but also contain chemicals such as arsenic and lead—are now present around the Korean peninsula nearly year-round, and due to topographical features and wind patterns, are not just an urban problem. Thus, there is an increasing feeling among South Koreans of the impossibility of escape (without emigrating). “Bad air” becomes a complex issue that parents in particular must deal with every day, reacting to their own sensory experience of microparticles and the real and perceived threats to their children, who are more seriously affected by air quality due to their small stature—breathing worse air near the ground—and growing bodies. This research examines how parents’ decisions in the everyday to go outside, wear a mask or put masks on children, take trips, or buy and install air purifiers in homes or cars are influenced by a complex range of factors such as whether they believe the worsening pollution is mainly domestically produced or “China’s fault,” or whether they are using South Korean or international smartphone apps to monitor the realtime air quality.