The get-to-know: Joseph Masco

Joseph Masco is currently Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. From Masco’s personal webpage at the University of Chicago:”Masco writes and teaches courses on science and technology, U.S. national security culture, political ecology, mass media, and critical theory. He is the author of The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton University Press, 2006), which won the 2008 Rachel Carson Prize from the Society for the Social Studies of Science and the 2006 Robert K. Merton Prize from the Section on Science, Knowledge and Technology of the American Sociology Association. His work as been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Wenner-Gren Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. His current work examines the evolution of the national security state in the United States, with a particular focus on the interplay between affect, technology, and threat perception within a national public sphere.”

Selected articles of interest with regards to workshop theme:

The Age of Fallout. History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History. 5(2): 137-68.

The End of Ends. Anthropological Quarterly, 85(4): 1109-1126.
This paper assesses the conceptual and technological negotiation of an absolute end. The idea of a total ending is sublime: it is located outside of language and powerful precisely because of its sheer incomprehensibility. Yet, through the 20th century the United States built large-scale technological systems capable of achieving an absolute end to civilization. This paper engages both the idea of an end, and the means to an end, informing US nuclear strategy. It begins with an assessment of Cold War nuclear war plans that, if enacted, would certainly have eliminated most, if not all, life on Earth. I then examine how this expert fixation on nuclear crisis was itself circumscribed by new technological systems—notably secret space satellites that provided images of Earth in its totality as well as a vital check on the American projections of Soviet power. The exploration of outer space was thus a crucial means of checking American fantasies of an imminent and total danger, establishing a new limit on thought while opening up the possibility of an “end of ends” in the nuclear age.

Life Underground: Building A Bunker Society. Anthropology Now. 1(2):13-29.

“Survival is Your Business”: Engineering Affect and Ruins in Nuclear America. Cultural Anthropology 23(2): 361-98.
In this article, I interrogate the national cultural work performed by the mass circulation of images of a n uclear-bombed United States since 1 945. It argues that the production of negative affect has become a central arena of nation-building in the nuclear age, and tracks the visual deployment of nuclearfear onfilmfrom the early Cold War project of civil defense through the ”war on terror. ”It argues that the production and management of negative affect remains a central tool of the national security state, and demonstrates the primary role the atomic bomb plays in the United States as a means of militarizing everyday life and just4fying war.