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Science in the Small Town: National Security Transformations

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Abstract:

For nearly 70 years, the military facility at Fort Detrick has been the economic center of Frederick County, Maryland, as well as the scientific center of the nation’s biodefense programs. From top-secret bioweapons programs during WWII to controversial biodefense programs of the Cold War, this army research facility is now the intergovernmental hub for scientific study of biological agents and public health in the United States. In 2010, however, new buildings on the Biodefense Campus came under public scrutiny as citizens questioned whether the Army had honestly and adequately assessed the environmental impacts and biological security of the laboratories where its scientists study anthrax, ebola, and other deadly pathogens. In the post-9/11 security society, this facility which has housed such diseases for three generations must prove anew that bringing microbes into a contained environment for scientific study will not endanger people who live outside the laboratory walls.

Meanwhile, across the Chesapeake Bay in the rural community of Ruthsburg, Maryland, citizens rallied against a counterterrorism training facility proposed for their hometown. Local politicians initially lobbied the State Department to locate its 2,000-acre Foreign Affairs Security Training Center in the region, seeking jobs for a farming community struggling during challenging economic times. To the surprise of its advocates, residents fought the development, debating issues of environmental impact, safety, sound, and risk, all the while creating a communal identity around ideas of environmental nostalgia and individual patriotism. The controversy in Ruthsburg further illuminates how citizens negotiate the emerging security state of the 21st century, positioning the nation’s security needs and vital economic growth against public perception of risk and environmental and social change.

This research considers how government agencies work to alleviate social anxieties brought by the expansion of the national security complex and how citizen concern over national preparedness practices materially transforms the spaces where security work takes place. How does a laboratory prove it is a secure space where threatening microbes are contained? How do scientists measure and communicate risk, proving that unseen technologies isolate the laboratory from the community and guarantee citizens’ well-being? This paper particularly considers how established government practices, including Environmental Impact Statements, public meetings and comment periods, become tools for citizens to make sense of the proximate threats brought by the governmental project to secure the nation against disease and terrorism. Through ethnographic study of these protests in rural and suburban Maryland, I explore how people imagine the catastrophes and worst-case scenarios of the nation’s science complex, and how they bring these formulations into the public domain for negotiation. By situating this research within the field of critical science studies, I particularly consider how residents who live near highly-controlled government spaces perceive the work of scientists being done behind guarded doors, and how they negotiate the biological risks and economic gains of these national security practices in local, individual ways. I aim to show how the national security state touches down in people’s lives, producing new conceptions of biological citizenship for the post-9/11 world.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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http://www.theasa.net


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URL: http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509938_index.html
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MLA Citation:

Armstrong, Melanie. "Science in the Small Town: National Security Transformations" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD, Oct 20, 2011 <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509938_index.html>

APA Citation:

Armstrong, M. , 2011-10-20 "Science in the Small Town: National Security Transformations" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Baltimore, Baltimore, MD <Not Available>. 2014-11-25 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p509938_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: For nearly 70 years, the military facility at Fort Detrick has been the economic center of Frederick County, Maryland, as well as the scientific center of the nation’s biodefense programs. From top-secret bioweapons programs during WWII to controversial biodefense programs of the Cold War, this army research facility is now the intergovernmental hub for scientific study of biological agents and public health in the United States. In 2010, however, new buildings on the Biodefense Campus came under public scrutiny as citizens questioned whether the Army had honestly and adequately assessed the environmental impacts and biological security of the laboratories where its scientists study anthrax, ebola, and other deadly pathogens. In the post-9/11 security society, this facility which has housed such diseases for three generations must prove anew that bringing microbes into a contained environment for scientific study will not endanger people who live outside the laboratory walls.

Meanwhile, across the Chesapeake Bay in the rural community of Ruthsburg, Maryland, citizens rallied against a counterterrorism training facility proposed for their hometown. Local politicians initially lobbied the State Department to locate its 2,000-acre Foreign Affairs Security Training Center in the region, seeking jobs for a farming community struggling during challenging economic times. To the surprise of its advocates, residents fought the development, debating issues of environmental impact, safety, sound, and risk, all the while creating a communal identity around ideas of environmental nostalgia and individual patriotism. The controversy in Ruthsburg further illuminates how citizens negotiate the emerging security state of the 21st century, positioning the nation’s security needs and vital economic growth against public perception of risk and environmental and social change.

This research considers how government agencies work to alleviate social anxieties brought by the expansion of the national security complex and how citizen concern over national preparedness practices materially transforms the spaces where security work takes place. How does a laboratory prove it is a secure space where threatening microbes are contained? How do scientists measure and communicate risk, proving that unseen technologies isolate the laboratory from the community and guarantee citizens’ well-being? This paper particularly considers how established government practices, including Environmental Impact Statements, public meetings and comment periods, become tools for citizens to make sense of the proximate threats brought by the governmental project to secure the nation against disease and terrorism. Through ethnographic study of these protests in rural and suburban Maryland, I explore how people imagine the catastrophes and worst-case scenarios of the nation’s science complex, and how they bring these formulations into the public domain for negotiation. By situating this research within the field of critical science studies, I particularly consider how residents who live near highly-controlled government spaces perceive the work of scientists being done behind guarded doors, and how they negotiate the biological risks and economic gains of these national security practices in local, individual ways. I aim to show how the national security state touches down in people’s lives, producing new conceptions of biological citizenship for the post-9/11 world.


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