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Social monitoring: Tracing the contours of a post-Chernobyl biopolitics

Authors: Nathaniel Pickett*, University of Kansas
Topics: Political Geography
Keywords: ukraine, chernobyl, biopolitics, geopolitics
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper begins with the work done by the Department of Social Expertise of the Institute of Sociology of the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences in their "social monitoring" of the victims of the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. I argue that the DSE's research on this population was instrumental in constructing a postsoviet biopolitical regime that is inseparable from questions of Ukraine's and Ukrainians' (geo)political identities. At the center of this biopolitics is an emphasis on the unmet responsibilities of the governing to the governed, which has resulted in numerous crises of authority, sovereignty, territory, community, and identity in the 28 years of Ukrainian independence. Answering the question of where the fault lies for the Chernobyl disaster, and its lingering aftermath, is rooted in both geopolitical narratives and the materiality of suffering. This paper explores how processes of coming up with answers to this question of fault have been pivotal in shifting the emphases on, boundaries of, and relationships between the governing and the governed, resulting in a fractious, chaotic, and distrustful framework for political life in Ukraine.

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