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.

24th Image Symposium, Madrid, 20 – 22 June

Looking forward to delivering a keynote lecture and taking part in the Image Symposium 2017 in CA2M Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo in June.

24th Image Symposium – Glitch Futures. Data Speculation, Technocosmology and Dispossession in Times of Accelerated Capitalism, 20 − 22 JUNE 2017

The temperature of viscous Miami swamps rose as high-risk frequency trading propelled through sub-Atlantic fibre cable highways. The pulse of their desires synchronised with the construction rate of newly incepted tropical islands built on radioactive trade-debris by the bay of Dubai. And as orbiting space junk was transformed into military checkpoints for the recent colonies en route to the seven earth-like planets, the Extractivist Dream Society gathered to rethink flashy new forms of post-ethical marketing for the enhanced humans who were on their way.

This edition of the symposium reflects on the current visual production of accelerated capitalism, or how images, data and algorithms are articulating forms of governance due to their speculative nature: how they boost financial and urbanist speculation, operate as affective currencies, unleash paranoid wavelengths of cyberwarfare, and impact the pressing rise of climatic fictions via denialism and extra-planetary colonialism. For that purpose, this symposium is envisioned as a Futurological Data Bureau that sets out to analyse how the politics of image circulation are implicit in today’s material culture, fuelling rampant dispossession, extractivism and neo-colonialism. It explores how virtual reality produces devastating realities of technocratic austerity and widespread states of anxiety while draining and co-opting the production of future imaginaries. Consequently, the prospective aim of the Bureau will be to identify the glitch of these imaginaries, to collectively intervene the code malfunction and its interstices in order to relaunch the imagination of our futures.

The IMAGE SYMPOSIUM is a programme devoted to the collective reflection, theory and practice around image production and visual cultures, comprising an international seminar, workshops and an open call to the public for research projects.

With contributions by Klara Anna Capova, Julie Doyle, Lisa Messeri, Metahaven, César Rendueles, Gean Moreno, and Sidsel Meineche Hansen, followed by respondents José Manuel Bueso, Marta Peirano, Diego del Pozo.

Workshops by Regina de Miguel, Metahaven, Gean Moreno.

The symposium will be held on 20, 21 J and 22 june from 4:00 to 8:00 pm and workshops on 20, 21 and 22 June from 11:00 am to 14:00 pm.

Enrolment free until 19 June

CONFERENCE PROGRAM

20 JUN 16:00 – 20:00
Climate warfare and extraplanetary imaginings
Ever more, planetary transcendence is used as a horizon of conquest, projecting human future beyond tangible spatiality. The New Space Age arrives at this moment of widespread-felt planetary crisis, when the demand for resource management incites a shift to the engineered futures of extraplanetary quest. Ever since the cold war era, several nations have invested in the militarisation of space as a horizon for investment, projecting in it its growth-led economies, nuclear surveillance plans, and extractivist policies. At the same time, Earth’s climate models have been successively disputed, with a constant challenge linked to data erasure and manipulation to control mainstream opinion. Inquiring into how the implications of data analysis are involved in mythmaking and cosmology today, we will explore how are our representation systems affecting material politics in earth today. How have planetary and space representations been altered through the politics of imagining technologies over the last few years? Furthermore, how is this shift towards space extractivism implied in the systemic and ecologic relation we have with the Earth?

Speakers
Klara Anna Capova is Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Anthropology at the Durham University (UK) and Visiting Research Fellow at Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies in Lund University (Sweden). She is a sociocultural anthropologist working in Science and Technology Studies. Her main research interests are in the social study of astrobiology and scientific search for extraterrestrial life in general. Klara Anna is looking into transformations of human relations to outer space, developments in contemporary worldviews and studies how science changes society.

Julie Doyle is Professor of Media and Communication, and Co-Chair of the Centre for Research in Spatial, Environmental and Cultural Politics, University of Brighton. Her research explores how visual media and culture shape climate change communication and engagement. Prof. Doyle has collaborated with visual artists and practitioners, and provided consultancy for environmental NGOs, government, and the sustainability communications sector.

Lisa Messeri is an anthropologist of science who researches the human dimensions of scientific endeavours, focusing on planetary science and virtual reality. She is an Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia and the author of “Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds.” She studied aerospace engineering as an undergraduate at MIT before earning a Ph.D. in anthropology.

Respondent
José Manuel Bueso is a freelance theorist and docent. He is also director of La Unidad de Imaginación Forense, the shared reading group in the first season of Escuelita, called Speculative Infrastructures


21 JUN 16:00 – 20:00
Cyberfetishhim and black transparency
The technocratic regime in which we live today is undeniable: computation on a global scale —internet and mobile devices, information networks and data clouds, apps and intelligent cities, automation of several realms of life and artificial intelligence, wiki-democracy and augmented society— has given rise to a technological mega-infrastructure which is at once an architecture of governance and of political transformation. We are caught between determinism and technological fetishism. In this context, images operate as currencies of value, as vectors of financial, political and affective flows with the capacity to shape or (undo) subjects, communities, cities, territories and the relationships they establish between each other. The case of surveillance is paradigmatic: never before in history have we been so closely controlled, and we have proactively participated in this form of control. Algorithms and patterns of recognition have replaced any ethical decalogue, and we have embraced paranoia and distrust as a structure, in favour of slogans of protection, safety and democracy. Opposing this panorama of systematic surveillance and the mobilisation of large swathes of contemporary life towards the digital world, we will explore issues of cyberfetishism as well as the tactical notion of Black Transparency, understood as a radical form of democracy of information.

Speakers
Metahaven is a strategic design studio operating on the cutting edge between communication, aesthetics, and politics. Founded by Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden, Metahaven creates ingenious, strange assemblages between different art forms ranging from installations to clothing. Their work, both commissioned and self-produced, addresses branding and identity in such a way to speak of contemporary forms of power, in an age where power is especially designed to exclude as many people as possible from its operating system, its code.

César Rendueles is a doctor in philosophy and a lecturer in sociology at Universidad Complutense de Madrid. He has published Sociofobia. El cambio político en la era de la utopía digital (2013), Capitalismo canalla (2015) and En bruto. Una reivindicación del materialismo histórico (2016), and has also edited classic texts by Karl Marx, Walter Benjamin, Antonio Gramsci and Karl Polanyi.

Critical Sessions

Respondent
Marta Peirano is deputy editor of eldiario.es; founder of Cryptoparty Berlin and co-director of COPYFIGHT. She has published books on automatons, annotation systems and technological futurism and an introduction to cryptography for journalists and media sources called El Pequeño Libro Rojo del activista en Red. This is the first book in the world with a prologue by Edward Snowden. She also writes a column on technology, digital art and surveillance for the journal Muy Interesante.

22 JUN 16:00 – 20:00
CCC (Corporal, capital, city) Whitening

Whether as previsualistions or models, the production of 3D virtual animation has become a key tool for manifold sectors, ranging from the military complex to architecture and city planning studios to the porn industry. Far from being innocuous, these technologies of visual production are not only altering the operative fields in which they are inserted, but are also affecting and modifying the subjects, objects and territories they represent, generally for the sake of commodification. Through various case studies, this symposium will explore the performativity of these animations or, in other words, the reality effects created by this visual production and their consequences. For instance, the architectural animation of the city of Miami is building the imaginary of the city itself, channelling forms of capital and normalising the vertical military gaze through the drone aesthetic. It is a perspective that describes space in terms of friend or enemy, erasing from the visual surface those (dispossessed and racialised) subjects that get in the way of the projection of luxury apartment blocks. Likewise, we will also explore how the high-tech gaming and pornography industries are creating animations of hyper-sexualised female bodies that tacitly reproduce regimes of productive and reproductive work. These are phantasmagorical images proper to the current neoliberal times which, besides emphasising the dispossession of bodies they (do not) represent, are normalising a state of disaffection: the generalised desensitisation through the purported rationality of the technologies that produce them and their systematised consumption.

Speakers
Gean Moreno is Curator of Programs at ICA Miami, where he founded and organizes the Art + Research Center. He is on the Advisory Board of the 2017 Whitney Biennial and serves as co-director of [NAME] Publications. Between 2014-2016, Moreno was Artistic Director at Cannonball, where he developed pedagogical platforms and public commissions. He has contributed texts to various catalogues and publications, including e-flux journal, Kaleidoscope, and Art in America, and has lectured at numerous universities.

Sidsel Meineche Hansen is an artist based in London. Her work takes the form of woodcut prints, sculptures, CGI and VR animations which typically foreground the body’s industrial complex in the pharmaceutical, porn and tech-industries. Her research-led practice also manifests as group work, seminars and publications. In 2009 she co-founded the research collective Model Court, and in 2015 she co-edited Politics of Study (London and Odense: Open Editions and Funen Art Academy). Meineche Hansen was a visiting scholar at California Institute of the Arts in 2016; currently she is associate professor at the Funen Art Academy, Denmark and visiting lecturer at Royal Academy of Fine Art, London.

Critical Sessions

Speakers
Diego del Pozo is an artist, cultural producer and lecturer at the School of Fine Arts at USAL. His practice is driven by politics of emotions, affective economies and how affective devices are socially and culturally produced. He is a member of the art collectives Subtramas, C.A.S.I.T.A. and Declinación Magnética. He is also a member of the research groups Las Lindes, Península and Visualidades Críticas. Del Pozo has shown his work in many solo and group exhibitions and video programmes at various galleries and contemporary art centres.

 

More information at jei.ca2m@madrid.org or at (+34) 912 760 227

Astrobiology Conference AbSciCon 2017 in Mesa, Arizona

Excited to be at the Astrobiology Conference AbSciCon 2017 in Mesa, Arizona and ready to present my recent work during the poster session. Many thanks to the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies, Lund University for making this trip possible. A PDF of the AbSciCon Program is available online.

Conference Information
AbSciCon 2017 is the next in a series of conferences organized by the astrobiology community. The theme for AbSciCon 2017 is “Diverse Life and its Detection on Different Worlds.” Mars and icy worlds in our solar system are increasingly recognized as habitable, even as increasing numbers of exoplanets in their stars’ habitable zones have been discovered. The focus is shifting from identification of habitable worlds, to detection of life on them.

Deathless Hopes: Reinventions of Afterlife and Eschatological Beliefs

The ‘Deathless Hopes’ conference will examine the subject of eschatology in Jewish and Christian traditions from an international and interdisciplinary perspective. Issues such as the hope of resurrection, apocalyptic scenarios, and cosmic redemption have been a hotbed of religious invention, renewal, and innovation with significant social consequences. Hosted by Oranim Academic College of Education in Tivon, Israel, the conference is funded by a Lautenschlaeger Symposium Grant.

I am very much looking forward to delivering my talk entitled ‘Technoscientific Afterlives: The New Cultural Practices and the Realm of Post-Modern Spirituality.’ Conference schedule is available to download from Fuller Theological Seminary website. For more information about the Fuller Theological Seminary please see Fuller Theological Seminary latest news or go to events page.

Grand Challenges Seminar, Oxford University

Oxford Talks, part of: Grand Challenges Seminar Series
University of Oxford, T. S. Eliot Lecture Theater
Are We Alone? Discourse on extraterrestrial research
26 January 2016, 17:00

‘Are We Alone?’ is a public seminar on the existence of extraterrestrial life, and the implications for our society. Questions posed during ‘Are We Alone?’ will include: is it worthwhile (economically, philosophically) to pursue extraterrestrial research? Are we are looking for life in the right forms? And how might the discovery of extraterrestrial life affect society?

The seminar will be ran as a panel discussion with three renowned guest speakers: Dr Klara Anna Capova, who is investigating attempts to detect life beyond Earth as well as scientific entrepreneurship at Durham University; Professor Ian Crawford, who is researching the future of space exploration at Birbeck University, University of London; and Dr Stuart Armstrong from the Future of Humanity Institute, University of Oxford; he is a SETI (UK) member and is interested in the long term potential for intelligent life.

Frontiers of Life: Terrestrial and Extra-Terrestrial Prospections

I am very much looking forward to giving a talk at Frontiers of Life Terrestrial and Extra-Terrestrial Prospections workshop in London tomorrow!

Confirmed speakers: Gisli Pálsson (University of Iceland), Sophie Houdart (Université Paris X Nanterre), Jane Calvert (University of Edinburgh), David Dunér (Lund University), Klara Anna Capova (Durham University), Perig Pitrou (Laboratoire d’Anthroplogie Sociale/ Collège de France), Jane Grant (Plymouth University), Emmanuel Grimaud (Université Paris X Nanterre) and Valentina Marcheselli (University of Edinburgh). Organizer: Istvan Praet.

18th of June 2015 – University of Roehampton (London)

Meeting Abstract: The question of life is a perennial problem that has puzzled philosophers since Antiquity. If one considers its modern scientific conception, one notices that life’s limits continue to shift and expand in remarkable ways. Current research in robotics, synthetic biology and artificial life redraws and questions traditional boundaries between what is alive and what is not. Life’s terrestrial origin is now thought to go back at least 3.5 billion years, as indicated by fossilized microbial mats. Its spatial distribution is more extensive and its resilience is much greater than generally assumed until a few years ago: biological organisms have been discovered in undersea volcanoes, in the world’s driest deserts as well as in subglacial lakes, and airborne microbes have been captured in the stratosphere.

What is more, experiments conducted at the International Space Station in the European Space Agency’s BIOPAN programme have established that microscopic animals capable of suspended animation, such as tardigrades, are unexpectedly tolerant to the conditions of outer space. All this has inspired researchers in the field known as astrobiology to reassess the notion of ‘habitable environment’, to rethink what it means to be ‘alive’ and sometimes even to challenge the standard neo-Darwinian picture of the biological world head-on. Astrobiology, a veritable melting pot of a great variety of natural sciences, is arguably one of the most fertile grounds if one looks for creative reformulations of traditional neo-Darwinism. What remains underappreciated is that this development is very much in line with recent advances in the social sciences. In anthropology, several initiatives have been taken to rebuild our understanding of life and its evolution on entirely different ontological foundations. The perspective of ‘biosocial becomings’ (Ingold and Palsson 2013), which explores alternative theoretical languages in relation to life, is one notable example of this trend.

The assumption here is that something can be gained from bringing both strands of thought together; the goal of this conference is to test the waters and to establish what that may be. The ethnographic exploration of astrobiology and planetary science – and of its practitioners’ observations, experiments and conceptual acrobatics in relation to life more specifically – is a first step. It is as important, however, to consider issues of scale and perspective. A key aim is to improve our understanding of how scientists make the universe palpable and how they apprehend both the very large (e.g. planets) and the very small (e.g. the inner structure of meteorites) by means of diverse kinds of telescopes, spectroscopes, microscopes and a variety of other instruments. Philosophers of science tell us that observatory techniques, and even objectivity itself, have a history. Space researchers may claim that their observations and measurements are objective, yet their ideals of objectivity change over time and depend on the specific context (or sub-discipline) in which they are applied. An astrophysicist may have a slightly different standard of objectivity and a subtly distinctive definition of life than –say – a geochemist or a microbiologist. The way in which planetary scientists frame their questions – whether it is about subsurface oceans, alternative biochemistries, ice volcanoes, extra-terrestrial lightning storms, putative microfossils or the analogy between the Earth’s hydrosphere and the ‘methanosphere’ of Saturn’s biggest moon Titan – and in how far these respective entities are considered to be ‘alien’ or ‘familiar’ are always based on specific but usually unacknowledged conventions. By explicating these conventions, this conference intends to document how specific ideals of objectivity are currently evolving within astrobiology and fundamental research on life.

‘Astrobiology in the Age of Social Media’ video now on YouTube

Klara’ talk Astrobiology in the Age of Social Media: The ‘science of the unknown’ and the sociocultural dimension of transformative ideas delivered at the Habitability in the Universe: From the Early Earth to Exoplanets conference in Porto is now available online on YouTube.

2nd Conference on History and Philosophy of Astrobiology

Aim of the meeting is to deal with the transition of non-living to living matter, how chemical processes evolve into biological ones and the onset of biological evolution as well as the tree of life. Scientists and students from humanities and natural sciences will convene to discuss these questions that engaged mankind since centuries.

The conference is co-organised by the Nordic Network of Astrobiology and the EU COST Action ‘Origins and Evolution of Life on Earth and in the Universe’.

It will also constitute the fourth annual meeting of the Nordic Network of Astrobiology. The conference will be organised by David Dunér (Lund University, Sweden), Wolf Geppert (Stockhholm University, Sweden) and Christophe Malaterre (UQAM, Canada).

Höör, Sweden, 8 – 10 May 2015

Habitability in the Universe Conference in Porto

Just delivered a talk on Astrobiology in the Age of Social Media: The ‘science of the unknown’ and the sociocultural dimension of transformative ideas to the participants of Habitability in the Universe: From the Early Earth to Exoplanets conference in Porto, Portugal.

It’s a priviledge to be here. This conference is the first Conference and WGPP (Working Group and Project Planning) meeting of the TD1308 COST action ORIGINS.

According to the website, this European action gather 30 countries and 150 scientists working in astrophysics, astrochemistry, planetology, geochemistry, biology, paleontology, space science, engineering, philosophy and history of science. And, if I may add, also in anthropology or social studies of science.

The action addresses three basic questions that fascinate scientists and the general public:

  1. Where, when and how did life emerge and evolve on Earth?
  2. What are the conditions under which life can exist?
  3. Does life exist elsewhere in the Universe and, if it does, how can it be detected and identified?The action has specifically excluded the search for intelligent extraterrestrial life in its portfolio