23 Nov 2023 17:00 - 19:00 Online & Room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge


An event by the Military Surplus: Toxicity, Industry and War research network


  • Saida Hodžić (Cornell University) in conversation with
  • Lesley McFadyen (Birkbeck College, University of London)


Safet HadžiMuhamedović (University of Cambridge)


Saida Hodžić: ‘The Inheritance of Militarization: Toxic Gifts, Furtive Critique, and Survivance in Postwar Bosnia’

To think of Bosnia is to think of war, but militarization precedes and exceeds war, as socialist Yugoslavia located much of its military industry here. The toxic gift of socialist militarization enables people in a small industrial town to survive and stay home at the same time as unfiltered toxic waste makes this home less habitable, poisoning their beloved river. The residents, I will show, are equally people of the military factory and people of the river, and have to reconcile this dual inheritance. Historicizing the gendered inheritance of socialist militarization and contextualizing neoliberal dispossession and deregulation, this article examines how residents articulate a furtive critique of industrial toxicity in the extended domestic sphere, by which I mean the intimate gatherings in people’s yards and on neighborhood walks and riverside benches that comprise the interstices between public and private where much of Bosnian life is lived. Ethnographically, I attend to the felt embodiments of dual riverine and militarized inheritance, illuminating furtive complaints of toxicity and poignant fragments of memory. I suggest that residents reclaim their inheritance of the river, planting seeds of dissent and survivance.

Lesley McFadyen: ‘Dead Isle – Alfred Nobel’s dynamite factory on the Ardeer Peninsula, Scotland’

In 1871, Alfred Nobel started building a dynamite factory on the Ardeer Peninsula in North Ayrshire, Scotland, for the manufacture of blackpowder, safety fuses and detonators. To construct it, the sand dunes along the shoreline were sculpted, or cleared, so that light-wood buildings could be built. In 1926, ICI further developed the site, extending the development inland to an area over 300 hectares. Production buildings, nitrating houses and dynamite cartridging huts, were accompanied by administrative structures, a library, a canteen, laboratories, testing ranges, and a work managers house. There were colliery shafts, gasworks, a nitric acid plant boiler, engine rooms, a bank and a travel agent. The infrastructure ranged from a power station, road and narrow-gauge railway with marshalling yard and station, to a harbour.

The Ardeer became a ’factory town’ in spatial scale, but temporally it was only occupied during the working day. Up to 13,000 local people worked at the factory. For nearly a century, the Ardeer peninsula was involved in the manufacture of military firearm propellants, from blackpowder to cordite.

And yet there are other stories caught up in this military surplus and industrial landscape. From the 1940s onwards, the munitionettes who worked at Ardeer graffitied the lyrics of songs on the walls of their workspace to sing together whilst they were cutting cordite paste. The sculpted sand mounds that surround the huts now support nesting songbirds.

Alex Boyd, Iain Hamlin and I are negotiating new ways in which to deal with a situation where the built environment is decaying at the same time as ecological habitats flourish. In this talk, we will consider the supply-chain zone that was Ardeer but do so in order to reveal the by-product of war. By a by-product of war, we mean a timespace, where previously overlooked lives are the focus. Singing women and singing birds, we hope to reveal a new kind of account of memory and place, where human and non-human lives are valued.

For enquiries please contact the Research Networks Programme Manager.

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