Photo of Joseph P. Masco
Joseph P. Masco PhD, University of California San Diego, 1999 Office: Haskell 201 Office hours: By appointment Phone: (773) 834-7807 Email Interests:

Science studies; critical theory; mass media; ecology; US, North America.

Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences in the College

Working at the intersection of science studies, environmental studies, media studies, and critical theory, his scholarship examines the material, affective, and conceptual force of technological revolution and its aftermaths.

Masco codirects the Engineered Worlds research project, a collaboration with Tim Choy, Jake Kosek and Michelle Murphy to retheorize environmental conditions and research methodologies in light of planetary scale industrial aftermaths.

Masco’s work has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and The Wenner-Gren Foundation.  He has been a residential fellow at the School for Advanced Research (Santa Fe), held a Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professorship at the Institute for Advanced Study (University of Bristol), and has been a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton).  In 2017, he was awarded a Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring at the University of Chicago.


Recent Research / Recent Publications

Selected Publications

2022   “The Artificial World” in Natasha Myers, Dimitris Papdopoulos, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (eds) Reactivating Elements: Substance, Process and Method from Chemistry to Cosmology.  Durham:  Duke University Press.

2022   “Optics of Exposure” in Bernadette Bensuade Vincent, Soraya Boudia, and Kyoko Sato (eds) Living in a Nuclear World: From Fukushima to Hiroshima.    London: Rutledge.

2021   “Desolate Dreams” in Lyle Massey and James Nisbet (eds) The Invention of the American Desert. Berkeley: University of California Press.

2020   “Flashblindness” in John O’Brian and Claudette Lauzon (eds) Through Post-Atomic Eyes. McGill-Queen’s University Press, p86-106.

2019   “Anticipation” in Anand Pandian and Cymene Howe (eds) Anthropocene Unseen: A Lexicon.  Brooklyn: Punctum Books, p35-40.

2019   “Ubiquitous Surveillance” in Catherine Besteman and Hugh Gusterson (eds) Life  by Algorithms: How Algorithms are Remaking Social Life.  Chicago: University of    Chicago Press.

2017    “Boundless Informant: Insecurity in the Age of Ubiquitous Surveillance” Anthropological Theory 17(3): 382-403.

2017    “The Crisis in Crisis” Current Anthropology 58(S15): S65-76.

2017    “The Six Extinctions: Visualizing Planetary Ecological Crisis Today” Environmental Philosophy 14(1): 11-40.

2015  “Anthropology and the Security State” written with John Borneman,  American Anthropologist 117(4): 781-94.

Authored Books

The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton University Press, 2006) is a multi-sited ethnographic investigation into the long-term effects of the atomic bomb project in New Mexico. It explores how a half century of national security science in Los Alamos differentially remade local understandings of risk, citizenship, ecology and race after the Cold War. In 2014, The Nuclear Borderlands won the J. I. Staley Prize from the School for Advanced Research. It also won the 2008 Rachel Carson Prize from the Society for the Social Studies of Science, received a 2007 John C. Cawelti Prize honorable mention from the American Culture Association, and was co-winner of the 2006 Robert K. Merton Prize from the Section on Science, Knowledge and Technology of the American Sociology Association.

The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror (2014, Duke University Press) is a multi-modal (ethnographic, historical, mass media) study of the transformation of the Cold War national security apparatus into a counterterror state after 2001. Attending to the interplay between technological revolution, imaginaries of danger, and affective mobilizations, The Theater of Operations shows how hypothetical dangers for security experts can now overwhelm attention to existing forms of violence in the United States. It also offers a new theorization of threat perception, considers the psychosocial pull of negative futurities within American society since 1945, and demonstrates how affects and imaginaries are infrastructural, much like built systems. Ultimately, The Theater of Operations shows how existential danger has been operationalized within U.S. culture as a perverse form of nation-building and considers the long term anti-democratic effects of nuclear nationalism.

The Future of Fallout, and Other Episodes in Radioactive World-Making (2021, Duke University Press) gathers writings that examine the strange American intimacy with and commitment to existential danger. Tracking the simultaneous production of nuclear emergency and climate disruption since 1945, he focuses on the psychosocial accommodations as well as the technological revolutions that have produced these linked planetary scale disasters. Masco assesses the memory practices, visual culture, concepts of danger, and toxic practices that, in combination, have generated a US national security culture that promises ever more safety and comfort in everyday life but does so only by generating, and deferring, a vast range of violences into the collective future. Interrogating how this existential lag (i.e., the material and conceptual fallout of the twentieth century in form of nuclear weapons and petrochemical capitalism) informs life in the twenty-first century, Masco identifies key moments where other futures were still possible, and seeks to activate an alternative, post-national security, political imaginary in support of collective life today.

A co-edited volume with Deborah Thomas, Sovereignty Unhinged: An Illustrated Primer for the Study of Present, Intensities, Disavowals, and Temporary Derangements, is forthcoming with Duke University Press. Masco codirects the Conspiracy/Theory project with Lisa Wedeen, which considers from comparative historical and ethnographic perspectives the intersection and imbrication of conspiracy and theory in eras of disinformation, misinformation, and polarization.