Accepted Paper:

Of indivisible a-toms and nuclear life worlds: an ethnographic framing of socio-chemical transformations in West Cumbria  

Author:

Petra Tjitske Kalshoven (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Building on my Classics background in Epicurean materialism and on my recent anthropological research on nuclear worlds in West Cumbria, I suggest that ancient perspectives on matter, and how it brings life into vibrant being, may enrich theorising on worlds perceived as chemical meshworks.

Paper long abstract:

Panta rhei kai ouden menei—Heraclitus' aphorism sounds remarkably fresh in a world where mutability is increasingly seen as a given and to some, perhaps, a virtue. Building on my Classics background in Epicurean materialism and on my recent anthropological research on nuclear worlds, I suggest that ancient perspectives on matter, and how it brings life into vibrant being, may enrich theorising on worlds perceived as chemical meshworks. Departing from the etymology of 'a-tom' (that which cannot be cut or divided) and the term's use in Greco-Roman materialist scientific thinking I draw on a renewed interest in 'matter' in the arts and social sciences to discuss fissile controversies. In West Cumbria, where I have recently embarked on an ethnographic project titled 'Holistic decommissioning in the nuclear industry', chemical and social transformations are in lively evidence. I explore how values, worldviews, and their expression in specific (socioeconomic, rhetorical, chemical) terminologies shape West Cumbria's nuclear landscapes amongst a wide variety of stakeholders. This occurs in a context of uncertainty and transformation, where worries about declining opportunities in the nuclear industry compete with hopes for and resistance against new build. My ethnographic focus in this paper will be on the recent re-launch of a public consultation on the siting of a UK geological disposal facility (GDF) for nuclear waste. Once again, the future of fissile matter is expected to fuel heated debate whilst memories of earlier West Cumbrian interest in hosting a GDF, and the politics that allegedly prevented this, are bound to resurface.

Panel A20
Chemical entanglements: exploring ontologies at the atomic level