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Narrative and nuclear weapons politics: the entelechial force of the nuclear origin myth

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2021

Laura Considine*
School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, Social Sciences Building, LeedsLS2 9JT, UK
Author for correspondence: Laura Considine, E-mail:


This paper contributes a novel way to theorise the power of narratives of nuclear weapons politics through Kenneth Burke's concept of entelechy: the means of stating a things essence through narrating its beginning or end. The paper argues that the Manhattan Project functions narratively in nuclear discourse as an origin myth, so that the repeated telling of atomic creation over time frames the possibilities of nuclear politics today. By linking Burke's work on entelechy with literature on narrative and eschatology, the paper develops a theoretical grounding for understanding the interconnection of the nuclear past, present, and future. The paper supports its argument by conducting a wide-ranging survey of academic and popular accounts of the development of the atomic weapon in the US Manhattan Project. It reveals a dominant narrative across these accounts that contains three core tropes: the nuclear weapon as the inevitable and perfected culmination of humankind's tendency towards violence; the Manhattan Project as a race against time; and the nuclear weapon as a product of a fetishized masculine brilliance.

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Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press

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