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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