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TU Berlin

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Alison Sperling

“Narratives that describe Nature “reclaiming” spaces devoid of human life due to collapses in an economy, natural or human-caused disasters, or a supposed decrease in human activity and consumption due to COVID-19, for example, are quite commonly deployed. I’m interested in how these narratives operate in popular culture, as well as in theories about nature and the Anthropocene, where there is no pure or un-contaminated nature. I especially look to radioactive natures and exclusion zones to think at the limit of what a nuclear theory of the wilderness might offer.”


Biographical sketch

I grew up in Oakland, California and did my university degrees in English and Philosophy in Miami, San Francisco, and finally completed my Ph.D. in Literature and Cultural Theory at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2017. After teaching in Women’s and Gender Studies for one year at Santa Clara University, I moved to Berlin in 2018 as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Cultural Inquiry Berlin. In addition to my current IPODI project, I am also finishing my first book manuscript on Weird Fiction and American Modernism.


Research interests

Feminist and queer theory, science fiction, the Weird, the Anthropocene, ecology, contemporary art



alison.sperling at tu-berlin.de

Research Project

Nuclear Afterlives: Radioactive Natures in the Anthropocene

Duration: July 2020-July 2022

Mentor: Prof. Dr. Petra Lucht, Faculty VI,


This project takes as a starting point the proposal by many scientists and working groups that the Anthropocene as a geological event in the earth’s strata is nuclear, traceable to the first nuclear detonations in 1945 that catalyzed the release of radionuclides into the global atmosphere that also register in the earth’s strata. I begin by asking how the concept of nature and the wilderness have or must change in the nuclear Anthropocene. Following recent work in the philosophy of nature, nuclear studies scholarship, and feminist and queer ecology, I posit that the wilderness in the Anthropocene is of a new sort, deeply contaminated, toxic, and unknowable. Through scientific studies from radioactive zones, nuclear art and culture, popular media, and theories of nature, the project hopes to continue to develop Sharon Cram’s notion of the “nuclear wilderness” and to expose certain troubling fantasies perhaps hidden in narratives about nature “reclaiming” inhuman, toxic spaces.

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