Air conditioning has become the primary technological solution for keeping humans cool. In a remarkably short period of time, this energy-intensive machine has spread to many places where it previously did not exist. Adoption of this device, however, involves more than coping with heat. In places where it has become commonplace, it not only produces expectations of comfort, but shapes everyday routines. Furthermore, technologies are not simply adopted; they also are adapted and re-designed when manufactured in different places. This project investigates how air-conditioning affects and becomes integrated into new places and cultures and is also altered by them. This research thus contributes to efforts to regulate air-conditioning use by offering a better understanding of its social and cultural dimensions. In doing so, it contributes to understanding of how key technologies are made operational in new contexts, and of the practical and conceptual labor by which technologies are re-designed for new social and environmental contexts. Findings will be disseminated at academic conferences and in scholarly journals, and the project’s broader outcomes include delivering lectures and holding workshops with grassroots organizations interested in urban environmental issues, and graduate student mentorship and training.

Over the past few years, air-conditioning use and load have increased dramatically in arid environments. These regions are not only consumers of air-conditioning, but also producers who manufacture machines for local and international markets. The local reliance on air-conditioning in these environments, coupled with their hot climate and active manufacturing of air conditioners, make them an ideal context to investigate the reciprocal processes by which technology transforms places and people, and is in turn transformed by them. This project will examine three processes through historical research and field methods: (1) The introduction of air-conditioning and its effect on architecture and daily routines, (2) The manufacture of air-conditioning and the management of the electric grid that sustains its operation, and (3) Everyday experiences of cooling and heat exposure among low, middle, and high-income families. This study will also contribute to academic and policy discussions on the growing consumption of air-conditioning by demonstrating how not only affordability and discomfort shape its use; it is also intertwined with the development of specific cultural values. This brings the project into dialogue with broader concerns related to energy sustainability and the future of thermal comfort in urban centers worldwide.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
Program Officer
Wenda K. Bauchspies
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of North Carolina Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill
United States
Zip Code