The Nuclear Sensorium: Cold War Nuclear Imperialism and Sensory Violence – Canadian Journal of Law and Society / Revue Canadienne Droit et Société – article

The Nuclear Sensorium: Cold War Nuclear Imperialism and Sensory Violence

John Shiga | Canadian Journal of Law and Society / Revue Canadienne Droit et Société

2019-10-15

This paper traces the sensory dimensions of nuclear imperialism focusing on the Cold War nuclear weapons tests conducted by the United States military in the Marshall Islands during the 1950s. Key to the formation of the ”nuclear sensorium” were the interfaces between vibration, sound, and radioactive contamination, which were mobilized by scientists such as oceanographer Walter Munk as part of the US Nuclear Testing Program. While scientists occupied privileged points in technoscientific networks to sense the effects of nuclear weapons, a series of lawsuits filed by communities affected by the tests drew attention to military-scientific use of inhabitants’ bodies as repositories of data concerning the ecological impact of the bomb and the manner in which sensing practices used to extract this data extended the violence and trauma of nuclear weapons. Nuclear imperialism projected its power not only through weapons tests, the vaporization of land and the erosion of the rights of people who lived there, but also through the production of a ”nuclear sensorium”—the differentiation of modes of sensing the bomb through legal, military, and scientific discourses and the attribution of varying degrees of epistemological value and legal weight to these sensory modes.

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