People around the world are struggling to breathe. How do we care for asthma across environments that are increasingly unbreathable?

Asthma is not a new problem, but today the disease is being reshaped by changing ecologies, healthcare systems, medical sciences, and built environments. A global epidemic, asthma (and our efforts to control it) demands an analysis attentive to its complexity, its contextual nature, and the care practices that emerge from both. At once clearly written and theoretically insightful, Breathtaking provides a sweeping ethnographic account of asthma’s many dimensions through the lived experiences of people who suffer from disordered breathing, as well as by considering their support networks, from secondary school teachers and coaches, to breathing educators and new smartphone applications designed for asthma control.

Against the backdrop of unbreathable environments, Alison Kenner describes five modes of care that illustrate how asthma is addressed across different sociocultural scales. These modes of care often work in combination, building from or preceding one another. Tensions also exist between them, a point reflected by Kenner’s description of the structural conditions and material rhythms that shape everyday breathing, chronic disease, and our surrounding environments. She argues that new modes of distributed, collective care practices are needed to address asthma as a critical public health issue in the time of climate change.


This elegant first monograph from The Asthma Files project is written simply for all audiences and provides five practical recommendations. Breathtaking is social science at its best: experiential, explanatory, critical, and providing ways forward. Alison Kenner herself is an active participant as community social-scientist and as partner to someone who suffers disordered breathing. She guides us vividly across scales and registers.

— Michael M.J. Fischer, author of Anthropology in the Meantime

Breathtaking is a sweeping ethnographic account of asthma and its treatments that expertly traverses questions of lived experience, medical technology, and critical ecology as they bear on the epidemic of disordered breathing. Beautifully written and poignant, this book makes a robust contribution to our understanding of the health effects of environmental degradation and climate change, deepens the critiques of biomedicalization, and heralds the promise of complementary and alternative medicine.

— Anthony Ryan Hatch, author of Blood Sugar


Breathtaking: Q&A on Asthma Care and Climate Change with Ali Kenner, PhD
University of Minnesota Press – Can apps care for healthcare?
WHYY – So what’s the climate change/asthma connection?