Representing Time: The Language of (un)Certainty in Post-Cold-War Los Alamos

Laura McNamara

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12775/ths.2002.031

Abstract


Based on ongoing ethnographic research at Los Alamos National Laboratory, this paper explores a shift in constructions of time among nuclear weapons experts. It frames the Laboratory’s weapons experts as members of a community of practice organized around the production of confidence in the American nuclear stockpile. Throughout the Cold War, this community’s activities were patterned by several interlocking cycles, including the arms race, cycles of weapons acquisition, and most immediately, a local experimental cycle in which the community designed, engineered, and tested prototype nuclear devices. This local experimental cycle also served as a site for renewing the community and its knowledge, as novice experts acquired skills and abilities and seniors reinscribed understandings about how weapons work. However, these cyclical rhythms broke apart as the Cold War ended, leaving the weapons community without the design-and-test cycle as a central point of social organization. This paper argues that in the wake of these changes, local references to time emphasize a shift from cyclical rhythms of renewal to a more linear understanding of time, in which time has become a force for aging and decay.

Keywords


language; time; Los Alamos National Laboratory; Cold War

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References


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