“Phantasies of Safety”
Stephanie Palazzo | PhD Candidate, Comparative Human Development
Discussant: Briel Kobak | PhD Candidate, Anthropology
Wednesday, June 1, 4:30pm – 6:00pm CST
(Meeting ID: 995 2954 1260, Passcode: 959281)
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This chapter follows the rise and fall of industries in Middletown, Pennsylvania, and how the good life they promised brought with it its own national ideals of safety, security, and community in the late 1960s to 70s that remained long after the plants shuttered. It builds on the previous chapter, “Future Promised,” which explored how Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant’s physical infrastructure was a product of 20th century world-building and optimism. This chapter turns attention to how in the 21st century even as these physical infrastructures become ever less practical in their states of decommissioning, the normative horizon of capitalist progress remains alive and well in everyday life. It is a story of how the past affectively and materially lingers in the present landscape of industrial and residential buildings that have been repurposed, abandoned, swept away in floods, and leveled to make space for a future that leaves many of Middletown’s residents unsettled. Within this context, I track the past in the things my interlocutors attach to—library cards, nuclear cooling towers, tasers, skeleton keys, patented toys, and the stories of the town—not only as objects of both harm and desire, but also a cluster of phantasies that quietly inhabit, even haunt, everyday life. More specifically, they are phantasies of safety, the leftover material and affective attachments that are cobbled together to offer a sense of safety and security in the present when the good life erodes.
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