Rethinking Radiation Ecologies, Montreal

Ele Carpenter presented her current work on the Atomic Sublime and Radioactive Divinity at the Radiation Ecologies Conference, University of Montréal, Canada, 14-15 March 2015.

Conference Info:
The question of environmental radiation is today more pressing than ever. While the global radiation ecologies produced by Cold War nuclear testing have been generally acknowledged, radiation hazards resulting from nuclear power plants, catastrophic nuclear accidents such as those of Chernobyl and Fukushima, uranium mining, and nuclear waste storage and disposal sites still constitute a controversial subject.

This conference proposes to reassess the history, aesthetics, epistemology, and politics of radiation ecologies as imagined and theorized by the contemporary arts, humanities, and social sciences. The presentations at this event will build on a twofold premise : on the one hand the recognition that radiation ecologies (which include natural and artificial radiation) are unbounded, non-linear, constantly mutating processes. On the other hand the understanding that the radiation ecologies produced by Cold War nuclear weapons tests and those produced by the nuclear power industry cannot be separated from one another, but belong to the same historical and material-discursive continuum.

In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and in the face of an increasingly unstable and tense global nuclear order, questions need to be asked not only about the continuity between the Cold War and the post-Cold War nuclear condition, but also about « nuclearity » or the ontology of the nuclear (Gabrielle Hecht). What are the historical, cultural, technoscientific, and technopolitical criteria that distinguish a specific radiation ecology – say, that produced by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster – from other highly radioactive environments (say, those of the Exclusion Zone around Chernobyl or of the Marshall Islands, where the US conducted 67 hydrogen and atomic bomb tests between 1946 and 1958)? What is the relationship between sovereignity, immunity and radiation? How do radiation ecologies impact the production of subjectivity ? Is the relationship between nuclear exceptionalism (i.e. the exceptionalism of nuclear technologies, of nuclear weapons, and of their risks and hazards, as well as national nuclear exceptionalism) and radiation ecologies in Japan similar to that in France and the US?

Focusing on these and other issues such as the in/visibility of radiation, the politics of radiation health protection in Japan and the US in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, everyday life in the plutonium-producing atomic cities of Richland, Washington, US and Ozersk in Russia in the early nuclear age, and the aesthetic of films produced in close proximity to nuclear testing sites in the US, presentations at the workshop approach the question of radiation ecologies from a variety of angles. Privileging a transnational, interdisciplinary perspective, speakers – who come from the US, Canada, Japan, the UK, France, Belgium, Germany, and Australia -- engage with recent discourses from the fields of environmental/nuclear humanities, philosophies of sovereignty and governmentality, the anthropology of biological citizenship, STS (science and technology studies), comparative nuclear history and contemporary nuclear criticism. The result is a multifaceted, fascinating narrative on the global nuclear order and its radiation legacies from the early days of the Manhattan Project to the Fukushima nuclear disaster and beyond.

The conference consists of four sessions and 10 panels. Film screenings are scheduled after the afternoon session on March 14 and March 15, 2015. The event will close with a roundtable with all conference participants. Panels feature 30-minute presentations, comments by discussants, and a Q&A slot for audience interventions. Several visual artists and a filmmaker (Japan, Belgium, UK) are among the invited speakers. A volume of essays based on the conference papers will be submitted to an academic publisher in 2015.