Marx and Mazzini in Venice: The Second World at the 2014 Architecture Biennale

One of Karl Marx’s staunchest enemies was not some calloused old capitalist in a top hat, but another revolutionary, the Italian nationalist leader Giuseppe Mazzini. The two men fought over the very terms of revolutionary action. Where Marx saw class struggle, Mazzini saw a nation in conflict; when Marx called for a ‘horizontal’ solidarity that would unite the world’s proletariat, Mazzini countered with his call for ‘vertical’ solidarity across a nation. Continue reading

Additional thoughts on Plutopia

Thank you Kate, for your reply to my comment. Let me add only a few impressions. In most of the points I fully agree with you, especially on your argument that focuses on the history of the “dirty” aspects of the nuclear industry – waste (mis-)management – which reveals its real character. V printsipe, da. – But a few points I have to add, in order not to be misunderstood as a “‘pro-nuclear’ historian, presenting nuclear power as a solution to climate change.” Continue reading

Plutopia Continued

I want to respond briefly to Kate Brown’s recent thoughtful post. About my use of the term of “comparative history” to describe her book and her preference to see it as a “tandem” history: I appreciate this distinction that she articulated—particularly her focus on the conversation between the two cities, and also that she is situating the two narratives in juxtaposition but letting the readers draw their own comparisons. I share her anxiety that comparative might be an inapt (or perhaps reductive) term for what she’s doing here, in the sense that her book is reformulating the life histories of these two locales as inextricably connected. We leave the book with the feeling that telling the story of one without the other is to rob us of deeper insights. I have really learned something here and thank Kate for getting me rethink my position on the methodological insights possible from such a “tandem” approach.

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Second World Socialism

My thanks to Asif Siddiqi and Anna Veronika Wendland for their thoughtful reponses to Plutopia. I know both of these scholars and respect their work a great deal. They summarize many of my main points much more eloquently than I do in Plutopia. The two authors bring their own expertise to this topic, which surpasses mine in the fields of the history of science and technology. I really enjoyed reading their comments and I will try to respond to them here and in future posts. Continue reading

Oh Utopia, Where Are You?

„The weather is fine. Everything is blossoming. We are looking forward to our Mayday and Victory day celebrations. Victory day is the most important holiday. But the foremost thing is peace.” These sentences evoke words, sounds, and melodies from the Soviet 1980s, but they are really from the Polissya region in Northwestern Ukraine, April 2014, and Svitlana is writing an e-mail to me. She is a former teacher who is now working as a public relations officer at Rivne NPP (Nuclear Power Plant) in Western Ukraine, in the Atomic city of Kuznetsovsk. The city, on the river Styr, is made of 1970s-style white concrete panel apartment blocks, filled with green space and blossoming cherry trees, and a place with many children—Kuznetsovsk is one of the few growing industrial cities in Ukraine. It was founded in 1973, its citizens come from all over the former Soviet Union, and many of the male, single migrants of the 1970s and 80s got married to local Western Ukrainian women. Continue reading

Secrecy, Parallel Histories, and Plutopia

Comparative histories have a tricky road to navigate. While they may illuminate common points of reference and can highlight counterintuitive connections, they also depend on a fundamental conceit: the degree to which an author is persuasive in the claim that we can gain a deeper understanding of two (or more) seemingly disparate phenomena in juxtaposition. Kate Brown’s wonderful recent book, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters, wholly succeeds on this account. It takes two important sites for the production of plutonium—Richland (in Washington state) and its associated Hanford Nuclear Reservation, and the Russian city of Ozersk and its co-located Maiak Plutonium Plant—as points of entry into a richly detailed account of the horrific human and environmental damage wrought by the production of nuclear weapons. Bringing to relief the ways in which the lives of these two cites mirrored each other, she makes a convincing argument that “after this book [she] hope[s] it will no longer make sense to tell the two histories separately” (p. 4). Within the framework of Cold War history, the book is a significant contribution to our understanding of the ways in which imperatives organized at the very highest levels of power could have real-world consequences at the local level.

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Plutopia–Nuclear Cities between Capitalist and Communist Utopias

We’re pleased to begin our next book discussion of the Second World Urbanity project: an exploration of Kate Brown’s Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford University Press, 2013).9780199855766 In this richly researched book, Brown explores the common origins and trajectories of an American city–Richland, Washington–and its Soviet counterpart–Ozersk, Cheliabinsk oblast–and their residents’ lives over the span of the Cold War’s nuclear age and up to the present. Both cities were at the forefront of their countries’ nuclear weapons programs, as well as the secrecy and social engineering that the race to produce plutonium engendered. The two cities’ role in the Cold War and the security regimes built around them set Richland and Ozersk apart from “normal” American and Soviet cities. Yet, as Brown argues, the underlying dynamics that bound residents to their governments through these cities captured in stark relief a broader condition of Cold War urban life on both sides of the Iron Curtain: a willingness to give up one’s civil, political, and even “biological rights” in exchange for the security, exclusiveness, and consumer abundance that both cities provided.

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Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield, May 2nd–3rd 2014

This two-day workshop will bring together members of academic and cultural institutions from across Europe and Russia in order to discuss key concepts, individuals, organizations and turning points that comprise the history of design in post-war Eastern Europe. In recent years, study of design has emerged as a unique way of understanding socialist culture due to the way it links societal ideals with economics, scientific and technological progress, consumption, the material practices of daily life, the imagined West and broader artistic culture. Continue reading