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Mutant Ecologies, Masco

by on November 28, 2011

Olivier. Image from the movie Them! Digital image. Alpha Sy Humanities and Human Nature. 1 Oct. 2006. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <;.

Masco’s article, Mutant Ecologies, exemplifies the post-nuclear affect on the American West and describes different resilience efforts in relation to the environmental evolution that has sparked because of the post-cold war affects of radiation.  The article begins by introducing the affect of post-Cold War radiation in terms of potential environmental mutation.  Masco discusses the affect of mutation on the nature-culture relationship, where the world has been altered and its previous identity as been compromised because of the presence of radiation on Earth.  He points out that there is a new understanding of self, nature, and society where mutation is existent in all.  Because radiation has been carried throughout the world, and its presence is not technically contained in the sense that it is found everywhere, it’s scope is vast. Yet, there are specific areas and people who are more at risk.  He dramatically describes how biology and culture are affected by nuclear projects in the American West as societies are banded together not by national affiliation but by exposure levels, health affects and fear.  The second half of Masco’s article goes on to describe and evaluate the multiple resilience models for the nuclear age.  The DOE, INEEL, and Long-term Stewardship Program, as well as work with Area G are examples given and evaluated by Masco. He finally concludes the article by describing videotape he watched of Area G, linking the cultural world of the American West with the difficult labor required to contain nuclear waste.

Masco’s argument that American nuclear projects have transformed the biosphere, reinventing it as a nuclear space with new mutation embedded species is reflective of the resilience model ideal that nature’s identity does not cyclically return to normal over time, but rather exists in its ability to transform.  The article describes how each of these efforts such as Area G, INEEL and the Manhattan Project all focus around the ideal that Masco introduced at the beginning of the article-that the world was altered by nuclear force and therefore the identity of living things is altered.  These programs attempt to control nuclear radiation and it’s affects, while doing-so under the premise that species are altered.  These projects show the resilience efforts of the American West in coping with the changed state of natural existence by accepting that nature has changed, and will continue to evolve. According to Masco, the nature-culture relationship in the American West has been heavily shaped by past nuclear occurrences, and it is not expected to return to its previous state but rather evolve to fit the identity it has now embodied.

Do you agree with Masco’s argument that American nuclear efforts have re-invented the biosphere-“transforming entire populations of plants, animals, insects and people” (6)? Or do you see this as an extreme evaluation of the post-Cold War affect on nature?

Do you find any particular project to seem more helpful or successful than the others? Do you see any project as failing to embody resilience successfully?


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  1. 242colleencarey permalink

    I think that Masco’s argument of American nuclear efforts “transforming entire populations of plants, animals, insects and people” is a little over the top, but also valid in a sense. An entire population is vast. American nuclear efforts definitely have the ability to transform groups of a population, but not the population entirely.
    I did a blog for Kinga’s article on Bhutan, so didn’t read this article entirely, but I’d like to make some comparisons. Both articles show how culture is affecting nature. Although they are focusing on different subjects, one on transformation and resilience and the other on conservation conflicts, the article show people’s negative affects on nature.

  2. The world is interrelated. Small ecosystems are affected by larger ecosystems and vice versa. Specific species thrive off other species. When environments are devastated by nuclear testing, then yes, I think all species are effected either at a small or large scale. I feel like this is what we have been learning all semester – human’s ability to manipulate and control environments and the effects it has.
    Also, what I found interesting was Foucault’s idea of “governmentality.” In the article Foucault states “governmentality is the focus of the state on policing its population to improve the health and well-being of its citizen” and this is applied to the long-term stewardship program (13). This is a complex idea to think about. If the government is to protect their citizens and land, then they are to do so with these sites. However, Area G is an example of how this can be confusing. It states that government will control the use and access to this site for the next 1,000 years (14). This assumes both the land and government to be in a stable state and past studies at Area G, show otherwise. In order to move forward, I think this article, along with the one from Monday, are implying major policy changes need to occur within the government in order to protect these lands and its citizens.

  3. After reading Masco’s article, I immediately thought he went to the extreme explaining his argument regarding “mutant ecologies” and American nuclear history. Quite frankly, I was relieved to read this blog post/comments to find someone else felt this way and I was not alone. I think Masco’s idea that nuclear energy has had an impact on our environment and ecosystems is intriguing, but it seems like his argument is much too dramatic, giving the reader the sense of doom. Maybe Masco’s intentions were to really grab the readers attention by making his point very bold, in the end, I found myself feeling he went too far to get the full effect of his piece.

  4. Megan Powell permalink

    I agree that Masco’s dramatic approach was a bit too much, especially because many of the articles we read attempt to have a non-biased, scientific voice in their writing. So, this emotionally charged piece with its sometimes overly emphatic adjectives and intensely detailed descriptions, is easier to reject because the author’s opinion of the topic is in such plain view. That all being said, I thought that Masco’s ideas about the change in identity of nature and of the self due to effects of nuclear radiation was a perspective worthy of interest. Masco’s idea of resilience could I think be compared in similarity to Holling’s definition because both address the identity of the ecosystem, and specifically that a certain amount of change in that ecosystem will result in an entirely new ecosystem, a new identity.
    On another note, to address the first question, I agree with Kristin (and Masco) that nuclear radiation has had an unknowably grand effect on the entire earth, including plants, insects, animals, and people. Like Kristin stated, the world and its inhabitants (living or not) are interconnected. An effect to any part will inevitably effect the whole.

  5. I do think that Masco’s argument that American nuclear efforts have re-invented the biosphere. There are subtle effects that are hidden from people living around old nuclear test sights. Though, America is not the only country who has altered the biosphere because of the Cold War.

  6. Summer Rose W permalink

    I think Masco is a bit (really) extreme in his evaluation of the post- cold war world, but I thought maybe he felt a need to explain things in a way that is so dramatic to catch the reader’s attention. By bringing up ideas that people cannot completely understand/believe/comprehend, Masco makes the reader think he is just pouring out his emotions into his writing, and making things more extreme than they really are. But because he writes so dramatically, it is interesting to the reader (even if it is not really believable). I wonder if what he was trying to say was not exactly what was written on the page or if he was trying something else.. something that had to be read between the lines.. He could have just been extreme and dramatic though. I don’t know.

  7. Benjamin N. permalink

    I certainly agree that American nuclear power and testing has completely altered the biosphere. Currently, it might only be affecting things at a small level. However, I think the effects of radiation will start to show eventually, even if it takes several generations. Introducing any new variable into an ecosystem will always have an effect on the bio-sphere, radiation is no different.

  8. Sean Butler permalink

    It is interesting how this article directly relates to the idea of resilience and how different ecosystems affect each other how each must adapt in order to survive. This shows the effect that humans have on the environment and how we can control and manipulate it. It is the human manipulation of the environment that forces other species to adapt. We are then able to study these changes and better develop a definition for resilience.

  9. punam123 permalink

    i do feel that American nuclear efforts to re-invent the biosphere have transformed most of the population but not all of species living in this earth. The nuclear radiation has affected the environment and people are still suffering the post-cold war effect from the nuclear war. But now, after the post cold war has affected on the transformation of the nature through nuclear war.

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