Trabant Final Project- Michelle

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Final Project–East Germany

For their final project, this group created a documentary journal written from the standpoint of a 14 year old girl experiencing the end of socialism in Germany.

This presentation explains the context of the journal:

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Dec. 1, 2011: Case Study: Frankfurt(Oder)/Slubice

In our penultimate class we will take a look at the case study of the border cities of Frankfurt(Oder), Germany and Slubice, Poland, and their relationship to the European Union.


Asher, Andrew (2005) A Paradise on the Oder? Ethnicity, Europeanization, and the EU Referendum in a Polish-German Border CityCity and Society. 17(1):127-151.

Asher, Andrew (2011) A Divided City in a Common Market:  EU Citizenship and Everyday Instrumentalities on the Polish-German Border.  Anthropological Journal of European Cultures. 20(2).



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Nov. 29, 2011– The European Union and Eastern Europe

In our final week of class, we will examine the social and political processes surrounding the expansion of the European Union into Eastern Europe.


József Böröcz and Mahua Sarkar (2005) What is the EU? International Sociology 20(2):153-173.

Cris Shore (2006) Government Without Statehood? Anthropological Perspectives on Governance and Sovereignty in the European Union. European Law Journal 12(6):709-724.

Börösz, Jószef, and Melinda Kovács (2001) Empire’s New Clothes: Unveiling EU Enlargement. Shropshire, Eng.: Central Europe Review. Skim the introduction (P. 4-50), pay careful attention to p. 4-20.

Enlargement of the European Union 77

The European Union’s expansion over time. Image credit:  JLogan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Biological Citizenship Blog

One story of biological citizenship that I found very compelling was that of Lev, a forty-eight year old cab driver from Chernobyl. For “one month and five days” following the Chernobyl incident, he had driven an army general around the Zone as he examined the burial sites of the technical equipment that had been contaminated. When the time came to be examined and evaluated for what kind of pensions they would receive, this army general was said to have ARS with a level one diagnosis (the most severe and therefore garnering the greatest pension) and he only got a level three. Lev felt that this was an extreme form of injustice. Unlike Rita, however, knew “that it was futile to pursue [biological] truth”. Instead of fighting for an ARS diagnosis (he had also been originally diagnosed with VvD), he studied up on his symptoms and tried to stretch them to give him the best possible outcome. “Lev engaged his symptoms, like an abacus”. He also utilized his connections with key members of the system and “surrounded himself with social and symbolic resources”, including Adriana Petryna, to help his case. He was well learned in how to work with the medical system to avoid its discrimination and sought justice by joining a fund or fond “which mediated the interactions of sufferers and the disabled with state and clinical institutions” and offering his services in exchange for theirs.

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life exposed post

A woman that caught my attention was Rita in chapter 5. On the day of the explosion, she went to work anyways because she was afraid she would lose her pension and social benefits. But when you read her story, you find out that by exposing herself to the radiation, she actually lost her benefits. She arrived in Moscow and went to the hospital sick. Bone marrow damage was recorded in her files and she reported vomiting, diarrhea, bleeding, and memory loss. She had all of the symptoms of Acute Radiation Sickness (ARS) however, she was diagnosed with Vegetovascular dystonia (VvD). Doctors said this was caused by psychological, not biological factors. She believed that VvD was a false cover that doctors used so she went to another hospital. At the other hospital they diagnosed her with ARS but then when she was still sick and went back they said it was VvD. Rita’s case got worse and she wasn’t receiving the proper treatment needed. Instead of receiving disability benefits, she was actually losing money because she was spending more money on hospital visits then she was getting. She refused to believe that this was her result so she tried to find justice by reporting her problem to higher officials.

In seeking justice, she sent out a claim showing her results and providing suffient information proving she needed to be compensated. It took over a year for a response saying that she have to provide more/better proof. However, the proof they were looking for only comes from extreme cases of radiation. Those individuals with these extreme cases have died and she wasn’t able to provide evidence suffient enough. This shows that her “Chernobyl tie” wasn’t consistent. She did no accept bribes and this also made it harder for her. The doctors said that she needs to come to the hospital for welness checkups every year and if she refuses the diagnosis, they will make it a lot harder for her at the hospital. Rita’s case was a perfect description of the system and how hard it is for someone to receive disability benefits from the effects of Chernobyl. I am impressed by how much she perservered and I wish she had a better outcome.

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week 13 post

In the second chapter, Adriana Petryna talks about “a foreign burden”. That foreign burden refers to the internal radiation that workers and citizens had after Chernobyl. Dmytro was a miner from the coal-mining region of Donbas in Ukraine. He was one of the workers that was brought in to do clean up work shortly after the disaster. Although he received five times the amount of salary for this work, the life risks were immeasurable. Dmytro says that he “knew he was healthy before going there”, but during the work he “lacked a special protective mask during his month-long work, which involved digging tunnels under the reactor. Minors injected these tunnels with liquid nitrogen and other gases in attempts to cool the reactor core” (34). He gathered documents in order to become categorized as a disabled person level three. “This meant he was officially recognized as having lost 50% of his labor capacity” (34). In order to get these documents he had to go in for examinations at the Radiation Research Center. He had cerebral, cardiac, and pulmonary disorders. His story really affected me because he has a daughter who was born five years before the disaster and would no longer have children because he said “a healthy child cannot come from a sick father” (34). What I thought was most interesting about his story was that when he was categorized with 50% disability he tried to get 80% in order to qualify for higher disability status which would allow him to pay for his medical treatments. This makes it so hard because it really defines everything personal as also political. I am not sure what is right or wrong in these types of circumstances and how can anyone really determine how much work capacity one has lost?

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11/15: Ethnography in Life Exposed

This novel provides a unique examination of the Chernobyl disaster through the approach of ethnography. Author Adriana Petryna examines Ukraine’s fusion of governance and humanism post-disaster and thus, examines the emergence of biological citizenship (“the social practice that has emerged in Ukraine—sites make up a subsystem of the state’s public health and welfare infrastructure where increasingly poor citizens mobilize around their claims of radiation-induced injuries (p. 5).”

Specifically, I was drawn to the story of Rita Dubova (pg. 121-126). Rita, a fifty-six year old intern in the ARS ward of the Radiation Research Center now works [in 1996] to pay for her medicines and “to economically secure her son and grandchildren’s future before her death” (p. 121). In 1984, “Rita had worked as a gatekeeper in central gate security at the Chernobyl plant [just several hundred meters away from the wall of the reactor” (p. 122). She spoke of her boss’s direct denial of the event, of the absence of “transport” promised by leadership, and of her difficulties obtaining admittance into a hospital (despite exhibiting severe symptoms; bone marrow damage has now been reported in her records). Her struggles persisted with the steady worsening of her symptoms (ultimately declining into a state that matched those of an ARS patient); yet, the state continued to classify her condition as “less organic” (p. 123). This process continued, becoming a vicious, inescapable cycle. She was then diagnosed with having acute radiation sickness; however, the diagnosis was revoked and then again reinstated. I was particularly struck by this fact, finding it difficult to comprehend how healthcare providers—those under oath to do whatever it takes to provide the necessary care—were consistently denying people of this right. This battle is just one display of attempted expression/establishment of biological citizenship. Further, I am left troubled by the inadequacies surrounding the justice system (or, lack thereof). On several occasions, Rita was turned away despite her qualified “ill” condition. The leadership’s behavior in this situation was everything but fair or impartial. After everything Rita had been through (and people like her), how could they not feel a sense of obligation or responsibility to act? Their lack of remorse leaves me to question the role of the state in this disaster; it leaves me to speculate the state as the culpable “perpetrator.”

Petryna notes also the story of Rita’s son, a former worker at the Chernobyl plant who was left blind from an “occupational radiation accident” (p. 121) in 1984. Like his mother, he was never provided compensation. This trend of injustice is startling and I am left discouraged that Rita’s story is just one of thousands. This account explores the politics of Chernobyl-exposed populations, revealing an array of ambiguities that situated citizens in a complex arrangement of categories.

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Life Exposed Ethnographic Example

A lot of the ethnographic examples that Petryna uses in Life Exposed translate everything we have been talking about recently in class about biological citizenship and seeking justice for health problems due to the Chernobyl disaster. However, I liked the ethnographic example of Ivan Nimenko (on page 29-32) because not only does it touch on both biological citizenship and justice, but his story goes even further to discuss the lengths he had to go to be eligible for justice and gain health benefits. For example, if having, “cerebral arteriosclerosis with arterial hypertension, osteochondrosis, gastritis, and hypochondriacal syndrome” wasn’t enough, Nimenko had to find a health issue that was, “unconditional[ly] radiation-based etiology” (29). I found this amazing that even though Nimenko had all of those health issues, the state said that diagnosis wasn’t uncommon in that area and therefore he would not be eligible for benefits. To me that sounds like it should have been more than enough. Moving forward, this ethnographic account includes Nimenko’s necessity to reach out to family members to get his body examined and to finally have legal status as having “ties” to Chernobyl. This ethnography stuck out to me for another reason. We talked about “ties” to Chernobyl in class and this ethnography clearly stated that Nimenko needed the Chernobyl “tie” to prove that his illnesses were due to the Chernobyl accident, which would gain him health benefits; this is what people who had health problems after the Chernobyl explosion occurred were seeking. I still have trouble understanding how people were “tied” to Chernobyl in terms of health problems and contamination. However, I think the book does a great job of expressing how hard it was for many to gain biological citizenship and therefore health benefits. I liked how this ethnography can represent many others who had to evacuate areas near Chernobyl, displacing many people who also could have been affected and wanted compensation for their health issues. With his scientific knowledge, Nimenko beat the system to be a scientific subject in order to gain the status of biological citizenship (32).

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Nov. 10, 2011–Citizens after Socialism

This week and next we will examine the meanings of citizenship in Ukraine in the wake of the Chernobyl disaster and the collapse of socialism.  We will especially look at how people managed their statuses in the face of uncertainty,  and how the state sought to categorize and manage the health effects of environmental contamination and its risks to the population.


Adriana Petryna, Life Exposed, Chs. 5, 7-8.


Chernobyl radiation map 1996

Chernobyl Radiation Map, 1996.
By CIA Factbook, Sting (vectorisation), MTruch (English translation), Makeemlighter (English translation) [CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

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