Collection no. 003: Infrastructure on/off Earth
This edited collection aims to bring into conversation two fields of the social sciences: the emerging social sciences of outer space (Dunnett et al. 2017, Praet and Salazar 2018, Klinger 2019), and recent social science research on infrastructure (Larkin 2013, Harvey 2015, Hetherington 2018, Anand, Gupta and Appel 2018). It seeks to explore how insights from the “infrastructural turn” in the social sciences can advance scholarship of outer space, and vice versa. Existing research in geography, anthropology and sociology repeatedly stressed the importance of understanding Earth and outer space in relational terms and mutually constitutive politically (Sage 2016), psychologically (Ormrod 2017), philosophically (Praet and Salazar 2017), methodologically (Valentine 2016) and ethically (Kearns and van Dooren 2017).
While infrastructure is a pervasive theme in much social science research on spacefaring and outer space, so far it does not figure as an analytical category in these works. The proposition of this collection is that an analytical focus on infrastructure to explore spacefaring advances our understanding of the relationality of outer space. Spacefaring is a highly material- and technology-intensive activity. Most of outer space can only be sensed through technology as a mediator, including radio telescopes, rover and satellite cameras (Vertesi 2015, Helmreich 2016). To escape Earth’s gravity, humans or non-humans require engineered vessels and strong propulsion produced by launching facilities (Valentine 2017). Once in space, they are fully dependent on a highly elaborate built environment, which creates the necessary conditions for survival under extreme conditions (Höhler 2010, Damjanov and Crouch 2018). Hence, this edited collection seeks to address the following question: How does the conceptual and empirical focus on infrastructure advance our understanding of the cultural, political and economic relationality of outer space?
Edited by Christine Bichsel
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Introduction: Infrastructure on/off Earth
Christine Bichsel invites the readers to explore the relationships between the states of “on Earth” and “off Earth” by bringing into conversation two fields of the social sciences: the emerging social studies of outer space and recent social science research on infrastructure.
Mooring a Space Station: Media Infrastructure and the Inhuman Environment
Katarina Damjanov and David Crouch invite us to consider the International Space Station as a media infrastructure intimately linked to Earth through material and signal traffic.
A Sky to Work With: Astronomers, Media, Infrastructures
Götz Hoeppe reflects on how astronomers, by observing and re-observing celestial objects, use the sky as an infrastructural resource and as a means to build novel epistemic communities.
Lunar Landers and Space Elk: The Imaginary as Spaceflight Infrastructure
Joseph Popper invites us to consider imaginaries of private and commercial space exploration as infrastructure that stabilizes aspirations for human expansion into outer space.
Space Infrastructure Resilience: Reflections on Recovered Launch Debris
Narrating her story around images of rocket debris by Sascha Mikloweit, Regina Peldszus discusses infrastructural resilience and the complex system-of-systems that is space infrastructure, of which human actors can only grasp – and act upon – a microscopic section.
Stairway to Heaven? Geographies of the Space Elevator in Science Fiction
Oliver Dunnett explores the space elevator as imaginary infrastructure in science fiction literature and reveals how this literature anticipates the geographical, cultural and political ramifications of fast access from Earth to outer space.
Out of the Past: The Space-Time of Infrastructure
Christine Bichsel sheds light on how the former Soviet space station Mir is a representational object closely interwoven with the political turmoil of the Soviet Union’s disintegration in 1991.
Alternatives to GPS: Space Infrastructure in China and Japan
Christine Luk and Subodhana Wijeyeratne examine the Chinese and Japanese global positioning systems and elaborate on how competing satellite systems are a means for and expression of claims to global control over terrestrial navigation.
Space Weather as a Threat to Critical Infrastructure
A. R. E. Taylor invites us to reconceptualize what counts as space infrastructure, as new attentiveness to cosmic weather conditions among security actors brings ground-based critical infrastructures into circulation with the electromagnetic energies of the Solar System.
Placing the Cosmic Background: The Ghana Radio Astronomy Observatory as an Ambient Infrastructure
James Merron’s essay reveals how the production of astronomical knowledge about the Universe bears the inscriptions of contemporary terrestrial life and local contestations from the surrounding environment.