The Asthma Files (TAF) is a collaborative ethnographic research project designed to advance understanding and efforts to address environmental public health challenges around the world. Focusing on dramatic global incidence of asthma and other respiratory illnesses as a starting point, the project spirals out to address growing concern about the health impact of air pollution and associated need to build scientific, clinical and public health capacity to address environmental determinants of human health. Through ethnographic interviews and analysis of scientific publications, policy debates, and media coverage, the project draws together many different ways of approaching environmental public health, aiming to enhance comparative and collaborative perspective.
A key aim is to develop comparative understanding of different styles of both environmental health research and environmental health governance, in different urban and national settings. The project will result in a theoretically robust, empirically grounded conception of (environmental health) research and governance styles, detailing and categorizing different ways of developing environmental health data, advancing the sciences of environment and health, and directing these toward governance of complex problems. The project thus builds on work in the history and anthropology of science on how “thought styles” shape scientific research, and extends it to sociocultural analysis of “governance styles” by theorizing a broader array of factors that constitute environmental governance, and that implicate potential for collaboration between governance regimes.