Kurchatov Museum 2011_edited
National Nuclear Center 026

"The Polygon is the only place on earth where people actually live on a nuclear test site.  Nowhere else in the world does this happen"

Dimitry Kalmykov, environmentalist


I am a cultural and medical anthropologist and currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of South Carolina. I am also a Fellow in the Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies (CSEEES) at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.  Previously, I was a Postdoctoral Teaching Scholar in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at North Carolina State University, as well as a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow and a MacArthur Nuclear Security Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University. I research Cold War nuclear legacies in Kazakhstan and the ways in which the changing visions of militarized and nuclear spaces produce specific forms of social, political, and economic exclusion among people who live in and around the Soviet-era Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site.


When I first came to Kazakhstan in 2007, I was working on a different project. At the time, I wanted to learn what happened to the descendants of thousands of Polish families deported to the region in the 1930s and during the Second World War by the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Nearly 60,000 self-identified Poles, the children and grand children of Soviet-era deportees, live in Kazakhstan today. Many would like to return to their homeland, despite Polish government's reluctance to help them. It is then, in 2007, when I first learned about the Polygon (a Russian term refering to the nuclear test site and to all military training grounds) and its people. This chance "discovery" coincided with a broader interest of mine in nuclear legacies, an interest that grew out of my own experiences of the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Having several family members who lived in Poland when the accident happened, many of whom have come to attribute some of their illnesses to radiation exposure, that I became curious about the people in Kazakhstan who call the Polygon their home. Who are they? Why won't they leave? What are their understandings of health, illness, and well-being? After nearly two years of fieldwork, these questions, and many others, are addressed in my dissertation "Radioactive Knowledge: State Control Scientific Information in Post-Soviet Kazakhstan." I am now working on a book that builds on my dissertation research and explores these questions in depth. 


I currently serve on the Board of Directors of the Karaganda EcoMuseum in Kazakhstan, a non-governmental organization that addresses environmental problems in the country. In 2012, as a graduate student at the University of Colorado Boulder, I co-organized the "Human Survival in a New Nuclear Age" Initiative at the Center to Advance Research and Teaching in the Social Sciences (CARTSS) on the University of Colorado Boulder campus. This initiative aims to bring together social science researchers, scientists, and members of the greater Boulder community in order to address a broad range of questions associated with the nuclear age. I received my Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2014. 


In spare time, I hike, ski, hot spring, travel, and drive around Kazakhstan.





© 2015 by Magdalena Stawkowski

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