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Reactions and Ruptures: Ethnographies of Nuclear Life

Reactions and Ruptures: Ethnographies of Nuclear Life

Please join us for this online seminar hosted by the Deakin Science and Society Network (SSN) and Melbourne STS Lab. You can join the conversation on Twitter by following us at @SSNDeakin and using the hashtags #SSNseminar

Abstract: In one sense, the nuclear directs our attention to the vibrancy and reactivity of all material life. Nuclear elements such as uranium and plutonium leak electrons in the process known as radioactive decay or nuclear disintegration, transforming themselves and others in unpredictable ways. At the same time, the nuclear is also often framed as a rupture, whether in the form of nuclear weapons detonations, nuclear disaster inquiries, the creation of new nuclear power projects, or the founding of new mines to unearth nuclear elements. From this perspective, nuclear events such as the Fukushima disaster somehow mark a break from a previous moment that appears to be untouched by disruptive energies and effects of the nuclear. The nuclear enters, causes a break, and leave worlds permanently altered.

This seminar will bring together three speakers whose ethnographic research focuses on life as it is entangled with the ruptures and reactions of nuclear materials and places. In the seminar, they will discuss how their work brings into question common understandings of nuclear events as breaks or ruptures rather than continuous within longer-term histories of race, science, and labor. How does attention to the materialities of radiation give us new insight into the reactive and disruptive systems of power – such as imperialism and settler-colonialism – that distribute and disperse nuclear things in our world? How can we both articulate the very real impacts and contaminations of nuclear “events” and, at the same time, stay attuned to the transformative energies of colonial power and epistemologies?

Format: each speaker will present a 15 minute reflection on the theme, which will then be followed by 30 mins Q&A and discussion.

About the speakers:

Kirsty Howey is Co-Director of the Environment Centre of the Northern Territory and a Research Associate at Deakin University, where she is conducting a research project on the environmental regulation of onshore gas extraction (fracking) in northern Australia with Timothy Neale. Her PhD thesis explored the nexus between Indigenous land rights, environmental governance, and development in northern Australia, including in relation to the Ranger uranium mine.

Tomoki Birkett is an agenderflux Nikkei scholar living in occupied Lenape land (New York City) tracing imperial formations that produced the conditions for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and its ongoing unfolding. Their work draws on Japanese anarchist analyses of empire, women’s literature, antinuclear poetry, reportage on irradiated labor in Japan, and histories of labor migration and settler colonialism to sketch these genealogies and their reinventions post-2011. Tomoki’s scholarly interests include decolonial feminist analyses of Japanese empire, queer geography, reproductive labor, critical race theory, disability justice, and anti-imperialism. They are an anthropology Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University.

Maxime Polleri is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at Université Laval. As an anthropologist of science and technology, he studies the governance of disasters and public health crises. His current research projects focus on the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the COVID-19 pandemic, and global epidemic alerting systems. Dr. Polleri is a Network Affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, where he was previously a MacArthur Nuclear Security pre- and post-doctoral fellow. He is also a member of the EPI-AI Project, a Canadian-UK artificial intelligence grant initiative that studies digital disease surveillance, as well as a member of MITATE Lab, an international research program on Fukushima issues.

Watch the seminar:

Seminar will be available to stream on YouTube live. Access using the live link:

Date/time: Tuesday 24th August, 10:00-11:30am (Australian Eastern Daylight Time, GMT+11)

Q&A with the speakers to follow. To send questions/participate in the chat, you’ll need to sign-in using a YouTube account.

The seminar will be recorded and available to watch on the SSN YouTube channel after the Livestream.

If you have any questions, please send to


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