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“I am a Radioactive Mutant”: Emergent Subjectivities and Health Strategies among Rural Kazakhs at Semipalatinsk • Magdalena Stawkowski (CSEEES Fellow)
February 13, 2017 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
In this presentation, CSEEES Fellow Dr. Magdalena Stawkowski will explore how economic restructuring programs in Kazakhstan and the scientific uncertainty about the bio-genetic effects of low-dose radiation exposure have shaped a regional understanding of mutant biologies in and around the Soviet-era Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site. Semipalatinsk was once an experimental landscape where the Soviets detonated more than 450 nuclear and thermonuclear weapons. Today, radioactive strontium, cesium, plutonium, and other artificial elements remain inside nuclear craters, atomic lakes, and in the top layers of soil, circulating through the ecosystem. As of 2016, thousands of people continue to live in and around Semipalatinsk and in the vicinity of this polluted environment. Lacking good economic options, many claim to be “mutants” adapted to radiation, dependent on it for survival. The discussion will examine the particular social, political, and economic forces that have enabled the habitation of a toxic landscape and local residents to develop notions of biological adaptation to radiation.
Magdalena Stawkowski is a medical anthropologist researching Cold War nuclear legacies in Kazakhstan. She completed her Ph.D in Anthropology at the University of Colorado-Boulder. She is currently a Teaching Scholar in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at North Carolina State University. Her work examines how the changing visions of militarized spaces in and around the Soviet-era Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site have produced particular forms of social, political, and economic exclusion in the region.