Half lives and bare life: an informal geography of Chernobyl

Davies, Thom (2015). Half lives and bare life: an informal geography of Chernobyl. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Beyond the half-lives, Exclusions Zones, and official imaginaries of nuclear risk, exists an informal geography of Chernobyl. This thesis explores what it is like to live with nuclear disaster. It reveals how people have developed informal coping tactics and local risk understandings that defy formal constructions of nuclear space, and help resist de facto state abandonment. This project involved in-depth ethnographic research with marginalised communities who live in the contaminated landscapes around the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in Ukraine. Qualitative approaches including participant observation, photographic methods and semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants including liquidators (cleanup workers), border guards, evacuees, returnees, ‘Chernobyl widows’, farmers and many other people impacted by the disaster’s contested nuclear geography.

The thesis reveals how Chernobyl’s constructed landscape is produced through a negotiated process of ‘nuclearity’ (Hecht 2012). The research posits that alongside formal spatialisations of Chernobyl – such as its ‘Exclusion Zones’ - are a spectrum of unofficial understandings of space and risk that contest this top-down and ‘strategic’ geography of nuclear disaster (de Certeau 1984). It demonstrates that these alternative nuclear understandings help people assert agency and oppose the status of post-atomic ‘bare life’ (Agamben 1998). Utilising theorisations of power and resistance offered by de Certeau (1984), the thesis uncovers the hidden geography of informality, local knowledge and place attachment that allow people to resist the ‘stealthy violence’ (Li 2009, 67) of abandonment and perform their own alternative narratives of nuclear space. This thesis contributes to discussions of Agamben within geographical discourses, and advances understandings of informality in the context of post-socialist marginalisation and landscapes of risk.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Life & Environmental Sciences
School or Department: School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Funders: Other
Other Funders: Centre for East European Language-Based Area Studies
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DJ Netherlands (Holland) > DJK Eastern Europe
D History General and Old World > DK Russia. Soviet Union. Former Soviet Republics
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
URI: http://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/5962


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