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Nuclear Landscape: tourism, embodiment and exposure in the Chernobyl Zone

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Nick Rush-Cooper



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Sage Publications Inc., 2020.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


This paper recounts a day-trip to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and the ruined town of Pripyat through a series of ethnographic vignettes from the point of view of a tour guide. I argue for the need to research worldly forces, such as radiation, without reducing them to matters of language and thought. In order to take on this challenge, the paper offers an approach that begins with questions of embodiment, materiality and agency. I introduce the work of Merleau-Ponty as a key theorist behind landscape geographies. In particular, the rejection of dualism and distance is shown to be a vital starting point when understanding tourism and guiding in the radioactive landscape of the Zone. Through the crackling and chirruping of the Geiger counter, the halting, careful movements visitors and my own uncertainties I illustrate how radiation is first encountered as a bodily exposure, which is only ever apprehended after-the-fact and experienced as vulnerability. I argue that a more passive, vulnerable sense of embodiment is needed than phenomenology provides, for which I bring the work of Irigaray into conversation with recent post-phenomenological work in geography. In responding to these challenges the radioactive landscape of the Chernobyl Zone and Pripyat, the paper offers ‘exposure’ as a model of subjectification, applicable beyond radioactive landscapes, which is based upon passivity, vulnerability and a foundational relation-with worldly others which exceed our perceptual, representational and bodily capacities.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Rush-Cooper N

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Cultural Geographies

Year: 2020

Volume: 27

Issue: 2

Pages: 217-235

Print publication date: 01/04/2020

Online publication date: 29/09/2019

Acceptance date: 11/02/2019

Date deposited: 09/10/2019

ISSN (print): 1474-4740

ISSN (electronic): 1477-0881

Publisher: Sage Publications Inc.


DOI: 10.1177/1474474019876616


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