Professor of Anthropology and of the Social Sciences in the College

Office: Haskell 201
Phone: (773) 834-7807

Joseph Masco (PhD, UC San Diego 1999) is 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.

He is the author of The Nuclear Borderlands: The Manhattan Project in Post-Cold War New Mexico (Princeton University Press, 2006) 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.

Masco’s second book, 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.

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, 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.

Selected Recent Publications:

(Forthcoming) “Anticipation” in Anand Pandian and Cymene Howe(eds) Lexicon for the Anthropocene Yet Unseen.  Brooklyn: Punctum Books.

(Forthcoming) “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.

(Forthcoming) “Shaking, Trembling, Rattling, Shouting: Seismic Politics in the Nuclear Age” in Livia Monnet and Peter C. van Wyck (eds) Toxic Immanence, Nuclear Legacies, Futures, and the Place of Twenty-First Century Nuclear Environmental Humanities. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s  University Press.

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

2018    “The Age of (a) Man” in Gregg Mitman, Marco Armiero, and RobertEmmett (eds) Future Remains: A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Anthropocene. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, p40-49.

2017    “Boundless Informant: Insecurity in the Age of Ubiquitous Surveillance” (for a special issue “Producing States of Security” edited by Setha Low and Zoltan Gluck) Anthropological Theory 17(3): 382-403.

2017    “The Crisis in Crisis” Current Anthropology (special issue on “New Media, New Publics?”) 58(S15): S65-76.

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

2016    “Nuclear Pasts, Nuclear Futures; or, Disarmament Through Rebuilding” Critical Studies on Security 3(3): 308-312.

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

2015    “The Age of Fallout” History of the Present: A Journal of Critical History 5(2): 137-68.

2014    “Pre-empting Biosecurity: Threats, Fantasies, Futures” in Bioinsecurity and Vulnerability edited by Nancy Chen and Lesley Sharp.  Santa Fe:      School of Advanced Research Press, p5-24.

2013    “The Side Effect”, December 2nd, available at:

2013    “Nuclear Graphics”, March 6, available at:

2013    “Experimental Subjects” in Zoe Wool (ed) “Soldier Exposure and Technical Publics: A Collaborative Visual Essay,”      February 15, available at: technical-publics.

2012    “The End of Ends” Anthropological Quarterly (special issue on “Extreme: Humans at Home in the Cosmos” edited by Debbora Battaglia, Valerie Olson and David Valentine) 85(4): 1109-1126.

2010    “Atomic Health, Or How The Bomb Altered American Notions of Death”  in Jonathan Metzl and Anna Kirkland (ed) Against Health. New York:  New York University Press, p133-156.

2010    “Sensitive But Unclassified: Secrecy and the Counter-Terrorist State” Public Culture 22(3): 433-63.

2010    “Bad Weather: On Planetary Crisis” Social Studies of Science 40 (1): 7-40.