Publication Date

July 2001

Journal or Book Title

Anthropological Quarterly


The Budapest Chernobyl Day commemoration generated a creative outpouring of stories about parental responsibilities, scientific knowledge, environmental risks, and public participation. I examine the stories and performances elicited by the tenth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in April 1996. In these “Chernobyl stories,” activists criticized scientific and state paternalism while engaging in alternative practices of citizenship. The decade between the catastrophic explosion and its commemoration coincides with the development of the Hungarian environmental movement and the transformation from state socialism. Chernobyl Day 1996 consequently became an opportunity for activists to reflect upon how the meaning of citizenship and public participation had changed in those years as well. First, the Chernobyl explosion drew into question the authority of scientific expertise and Cold War notions of technological progress, provoking the “politicization of knowing” for many activists. Secondly, personal memories of the 1986 disaster reflect how Chernobyl presented everyday life dilemmas that caused many parents and professionals to see themselves as citizens and environmentalists, a process I term the “politicization of caring.” I analyze the political implications of framing the environment as lifeworld, drawing from sociologist Ulrich Beck’s concept of “anthropological shock.”


Previously published: Harper, Krista. 2001. Chernobyl Stories and Anthropological Shock in Hungary. Anthropological Quarterly 74(3): 114-123.