Redemption and Nutopia: The Scope of Nuclear Critique in International Studies

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What should the scope of nuclear critique within international studies be? This article addresses that question by making two interrelated arguments. First that political programmes of international nuclear order are crucially underpinned by what is termed here as ‘nutopianism’: a mode of understanding nuclear power that is imbued with a spirit of technological optimism in relation to ‘peaceful’ nuclear power, but simultaneously qualified by an awareness of the destructive uses and catastrophic potentialities of nuclear weapons. Second, that such nutopianism is in turn predicated on the ‘saving power’ of ‘the atom’: the assumption that nuclear power has redeeming features crucial to human progress and economic prosperity, the development of which should be facilitated within the structures of international order. The article makes the case that although critical thought within international studies focuses on nuclear weapons within international order, it has tended to remain largely silent on the issue of ‘civil’ nuclear power beyond nuclear weapons and the complex imbrication between the two. On that basis the article considers whether a more holistic and expansive form of nuclear critique is both possible and necessary.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-235
Number of pages29
Issue number2
Early online date17 Nov 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016


  • critique
  • international order
  • Nuclear
  • nuclearism
  • international studies
  • nuclear weapons


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