WORLD ANTHROPOLOGICAL UNION

CONGRESS 2024​

SELECTED PANEL

( pn44 )

Decolonizing Outer Space Ethnography

Organizers

    Hanna Nieber

    German

    Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

    Anton Nikolotov

    Russia

    associate fellow Berlin Graduate School of Muslim Cultures and Societies

    Online - Presence

    Anna Lisa Ramella

    Germany/Italy

    Leuphana University Lüneburg

    Online - Presence

    Alana Osbourne

    Jamaica / Belgium

    Radbound University, Nijmegen

    Face to Face/ On Site - Presence

IUAES Affiliation: Anthropology and the Environment

Keywords:

outer space, remote ethnography, co-presence, simultaneity, decolonization

Abstract:

Discussant: Niiyokamigaabaw Deondre Smiles, University of Victoria How do material conditions of cosmic objects, environments, low-gravity settings and experiences question established ethnographic categories of analysis, ethics and normative practices? In this panel, we query how physically inaccessible spaces and alien agencies may challenge colonial legacies of ethnographic methods or reintroduce them in new guises. Recent anthropological interest in outer space has cast established methodological questions in a new light. Scholars have asked how to do ethnography remotely, or how to relate ethnographically to extreme scales and contingencies, or more-than-terrestrial places one has never bodily experienced (Olson 2018; Szolucha et al. 2023). Advances in the Social Studies of Outer Space draw on and extend works in archaeology and media studies (Gorman and Walsch 2020), digital anthropology (Horst and Miller 2012), and STS (Beaulieu 2010) that problematize ethnographic practices in physically inaccessible locations. As an alternative to co-location, "co-presence,” or the establishment of synchronous interactions with interlocutors (Buchli 2020), has been proposed as a productive way of thinking and doing space ethnography. Arguably, this also reintroduces the return of the pre-Malinowski mode of colonial “arm-chair anthropology” (ibid.), while constructing “coevalness” between the anthropologists and the interlocutor (Fabian 1983). However, if it is the case that the vast cosmic scales unsettle the habitual terrestrial regimes of simultaneity, as Valentine (forthcoming) suggests, then what are the multiple ethical ways of relating to and inhabiting the cosmic non-coevalness today or in the future? With this panel, we aim to join the conversation with other scholars interrogating colonial legacies in space exploration and technoscience (Smiles 2020; Shorter and TallBear 2021; Young 1987). We propose to extend this analysis to the challenges of doing ethnographic research of extra-/terrestrial environments, objects, phenomena and relations. What do co-present or dis-simultaneous methods entail and who or what can be co-present? We invite papers, work-in-progress proposals, and ethnographically informed artistic interventions to reflect on the current state of the art. We ask how engagement with outer space might bring new insights to questions of the coloniality of research (Smith 2016), advance the reformatting of ethnography as para-site (Marcus and Holmes 2013) or collaborative curation (Sansi-Roca 2019), or disassemble ethnography in favor of anthropology (Ingold 2017). Finally, we are interested in research strategies that can help think with Mbembe’s (2021) concept of “planetarity entanglements” beyond Earth and engage with the current context of the neocolonial space race, the displacement of communities by space infrastructures and emerging space capitalism.