Magdalena Edyta Stawkowski

Grant Type

Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship

Institutional Affiliation

South Carolina, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10187

Approve Date

October 7, 2021

Project Title

Stawkowski , Magdalena (South Carolina, U. of) "Mutant Encounters: Radioactive Life on the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan"

The Soviet-era Semipalatinsk nuclear test site in Kazakhstan was an experimental landscape where science, technology, Cold War militarism, and human biology intersected. From 1949 to 1989 more than 500 nuclear tests were conducted in this vast area known locally as the Polygon. Thousands of people continue to live in rural settlements where damaged genetics and mutant biologies have acquired sensational and scientific currency. How do individuals living there perceive the effects of radiation exposure on their past, present, and future? How is their health used by the scientific community and state agents in making policy decisions about safety and risk? Mutant Encounters: Radioactive Life on the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan tells the story of everyday survival. It is an ethnography of the socio-cultural consequences of the Soviet atomic bomb project in Kazakhstan driven by those most affected by nuclear militarism and yet, who occupy a remarkably small place in the narrative. I show how experiences of health and suffering, and conceptions of “well-being” constitute an emerging local/global mutant subjectivity, where residents of the Polygon “embrace” radiation as something beneficial to them. The book addresses an underexplored realm where scientific practice mutates as it encounters different social, political, and economic domains, reframing public debate around important questions of the relationship between economics, geopolitical change, environmental crisis, and health.