What can be salvaged from Pripyat?

Authors: Nick Rush-Cooper*, Newcastle University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Geographic Theory, Tourism Geography
Keywords: ruins, nuclear, tourism, material culture
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Virginia C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Pripyat is the site of multiple forms of salvage. Scrap metal collection has removed window frames and pulled up floors; aiding the wind, rain and snow in the process of ruination. Tourists navigate these ruins, avoiding radioactive ‘hot spots’ and seeking out the material remnants of the past lives of Soviet others. Based upon research whilst working as a tour guide in the Chernobyl Zone, this paper offers ‘salvage’ as a metaphor to understand how visitors make sense of ruins. The Zone remains untouched by the heritage industry, a less overly determined space. As an unmanaged destination; both in terms of hazards location and lacking a specified script that visitors expect, guides understand their role as providing the opportunity for visitors to make sense of these ruins for themselves. Here, ‘salvage’ helps us to understand tourists not as passive consumers, but active producers of knowledge as they encounter these ruins and remnants, drawing from images in popular culture and reflecting upon received histories to make sense of these ruins. But, more than this, salvage speaks to the material nature of knowledge in ruins. As visitors work with ‘what remains’, these remains are forces in their own right, and home for the alien agencies of radiation. I argue that salvage offers a means of attending to the affective materialities and agencies of ruins, decentring both consumption / interpretation accounts of ruins and tourism and the centrality of the subject to embodied, experiential approaches to ruins as material culture.

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