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Robert Stock

Elevators and healthy relations: Building knowledge about breathing and vertical dis/connections during the Corona pandemic

Poster of 4S meeting
Society for the Social Study of Science


(A recording of this talk is available through Midspace App of the 4S Meeting Good Relations)

Take the stairs and not the elevator. This well-known motto suggests that movement promotes health. However, it should be treated with caution. Office employees require fast elevators. Freight lifts spare the bodies of deliverers. People with walkers, wheelchairs or prams should be able to take the elevator instead of the stairs. However, elevator practices (Hirschauer2005) entered a state of crisis, when the Corona virus began to affect the good––and often uneven––relations of vertical mobility (Graham2016). The elevator became a target of regulatory measures concerning the physical distancing of passengers, hygienic measures of operating panels and the introduction of intelligent air purification systems.

Against this background, my talk examines epistemic practices for creating a healthy vertical microclimate during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. First, these air-related practices can be located on the side of health authorities and associations such as the National Elevator Industry Inc., which establish hygienic standards based on scientific studies. Second, manufacturers (Thyssen/Krupp) build engineering knowledge and design new air filtration systems. Thirdly, improvised pandemic adaptations, new standards and innovation-oriented materials design intersect in the socio-technical assemblages of the elevator as an element of digital media infrastructure spaces (Easterling2014) enacting heterogeneous users, inequalities and novel daily practices that dis/able access. I conceive this field of action as an exemplary site to study the pandemic “politics and sociomateriality of breathing” by using various material from manufacturers, health authorities and user reports (blogs) and hence connecting STS, cultural studies of knowledge and critical media access studies (Alper2021).


Part of the Panel “133. Pandemic Breathing – Air as Matter of Dis/Connection”, Organized by Vanessa Weber, HafenCity University; Lisa Wiedemann, Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg @ 4S ANNUAL MEETING, 6-9 October 2021, Toronto and worldwide: “Good Relations. Practices and Methods in Unequal and Uncertain Worlds”


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