Towards an Anthropology of Space Workshop

Many thanks to workshop organisers for inviting me to London to be a respondent to Session 2 – Life in Space, Towards an Anthropology of Space: Orientating Cosmological Futures workshop. The event took place September 18th and was supported by the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies and the UCL Institute of Advanced Studies Octagon Fund.

Workshop Annotation

An epochal ‘move to space’ (Olivier 2015) has been articulated by various commentators as a crucial historical turn for all mankind, from Sputnik, through the Apollo missions to the recent realigning of NASA’s primary mission from Space Exploration to Space Settlement (Augustine Commission 2009). The effect of images of Earth from Space has produced ‘globe talk’ (Lazier 2011:606) where horizons of social worlds are now planetary in scale. These universalising rhetorics nonetheless also hide the hegemony of normative frames of reference used to define humanity’s ‘final frontier’, along with the concept of ‘humanity’ itself.

ISS024-E-014263 (11 Sept. 2010) — NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 24 flight engineer, looks through a window in the Cupola of the International Space Station. A blue and white part of Earth and the blackness of space are visible through the windows.

David Valentine (2012) describes how Space demarks a spatial edge used to distinguish the limits of the globe, which can be both revealed and transcended by techno-science. Space exploration then, is able to act as an ‘empty signifier’ (Ibid) holding the promise of a spatial fix to the future of humanity whilst simultaneously delimiting this same future as it masks the endurance of the forms of relations it claims to transcend. As Debbora Battaglia suggests, the figure of the extra-terrestrial is a symptom of failures to critically understanding the conditions of social life (2005:9), perhaps symptomatic of an inability to conceive of an adequate ‘constitutive outside’ (Butler 1993), which is often a euphemism for a political or social ‘other’.

The binary that extra-terrestrial implies may thus also be contested ethnographically. For example, Suzanne Blier (1987) has observed how dwellings of the Batammaliba track the passage of celestial ancestors through various light apertures whilst Lisa Messeri (2016) notes how Mongolian shamans have been visiting space for many years. Authors such as Alice Gorman (2005), Peter Redfield (2002) and others note how the local world of Space Centres, rocket launch sites or telescopes assume ‘translocal’, often neo-colonial, dreams (Redfield 2002:808) effacing local concerns. And whilst Soviets and Americans positioned Space as a location to enact utopian futures, different kinds of utopian ideological expansions may also occur through modern space narratives in places such as Ghana, China and Brazil.

What can we make of the new space race ethnographically? How would the consideration of relations between earth and off-earth life enable a fruitful theoretical development of social science enquiry? And, ultimately, in what ways can Anthropology think through the political, the material and the transcendent dimensions of an epochal turn to Space? In this workshop we will investigate the heuristic devices used in the creation of new forms of connectedness and separation that a relation with the extra-terrestrial could enable.

Klara joined the Working Group on Astrobioethics

I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to become one of the SOC members of the International WG on Astrobioethics.

One of the main tasks of the Working Group will be to analyse the potential societal and ethical implications related to astrobiology, taking into account the complexity of the connections between its main scientific issues and goals (see, for instance, the NASA Astrobiology Institute Astrobiology Roadmap), and considering the synergies between both bioethical and geoethical approaches (from microbes to humans and from the Earth to space environments). To find out more and keep up with the latest news please like the International Working Group on Astrobioethics Facebook page.

The International Association on Geoethics is the only organisation linking geosciences and ethics, which incorporates in its official definition the significance of astrobiology: “Studies on planetary geology (sensu lato) and astrobiology also require a geoethical approach”. For more please see the IAGETH definition of geoethics.

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Madame Mars: Women and the Quest for Worlds Beyond

Madame Mars, Women and the Quest for Worlds Beyond, is a transmedia documentary tracing the long and arduous path women have taken in their efforts to explore Mars and worlds beyond.

Madame Mars project vision is to inspire young women and girls to pursue careers and opportunities in the space sciences.

Madame Mars is creating an interactive experience with a living laboratory of women working in space exploration which will inspire participation and exploration of Mars and world beyond.

Thank you for inviting me to take part in Madame Mars, I feel privileged to have had the chance to participate in such a project. I really enjoyed working with Madame Mars team in San Francisco last November, many thanks to Jan Millsapps, Beth Rogozinski and Melissa Lamming.

It was a great day and I am looking forward to seeing the Madame Mars documentary!

klara anna capova mars space exploration