Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Ryan Claycomb

Committee Co-Chair

Dennis Allen

Committee Member

Charles Baldwin

Committee Member

Brian Ballentine

Committee Member

Patrick Sharp


Radioactive Masculinity explores how the Cold War legacy, of nuclear weapons finding resonance in images of white maleness and masculinity, results in anxious hypermasculine performances. These discursive and physical masculine acts contingent on the symbolic and material power of nuclear weapons, I argue, represent radioactive masculinity, a form of hegemonic militarized masculinity, which is intrinsically linked to the concept of nationhood and sovereignty. This idealized masculinity is fluid and cannot be tangibly or materially realized, much like the constantly decaying radioactive bomb on which it is modeled. Through analyzing a wide range of artifacts from America and India, I show that the anxieties of radioactive masculinity produce belligerent masculine performances, which are always volatile and unsuccessful. While existent scholarship has examined the gendered nature of nuclear technology, the cultural effect of unexploded nuclear weapons has been seldom researched. My project remedies this gap by locating physical and cultural sites in America and India, where the materiality of the bomb is made visible through its associations with male corporeality. This relationship, I argue, is indispensable toward understanding both the continued legacy of the Cold War within the Indian subcontinent, as well as its effects on postcolonial subjectivities.;The dissertation begins with an introductory chapter that chronicles the rise of radioactive masculinity within the American military-industrial complex. Here, I analyze official US government documents and related materials, which perform the equation of the bomb to the hardened white male body. I show that while nuclear technology is not inherently gendered, both the bomb and its production spaces were pre-discursively masculinized in order to counter dual insecurities: of post-Depression era American emasculation and a hypermasculine Nazi Germany. Next, I bring in a comparison to Indian governmental documents to further describe how the transference of American radioactive masculinity into postcolonial spaces creates postcolonial nuclear borderlands, which are co-extensive with all nuclear postcolonial spaces everywhere. Chapter 2 examines the formation of a (pseudo) nuclear public sphere in America---resulting from the crisis in official publicity about the bomb---in the period following the cessation of above ground testing. By juxtaposing canonical Anglo-American nuclear disaster fiction with postcolonial speculative fiction, Chapters 3 and 4 emphasize that the structures of radioactive masculinity are fluid and not bound to specific spatio-temporal contexts. In Chapter 5, a comparative analysis of Leslie Silko's Ceremony with postcolonial Indian texts from the eco-conservationist Bishnoi community demonstrate how tactical storytelling challenges the strategic structures of radioactive colonization. My dissertation concludes with an examination of minority anti-nuclear cultural productions, which by challenging the ideology of nuclear nationalism implicit in radioactive masculinity, deconstructs dominant Anglo-American nuclear historiography. By challenging the symbiotic relationship between radioactive masculinity and nuclear nationalism these texts initiate Nucliteracy---a dynamic multimodal form of literacy---that interrogates dominant and official publicity/secrecy about the bomb.