Panel 34

Earthly and otherworldly challenges. On the mutual shaping of imaginaries, practices and discourses about Earth and Outer space

Organizers: Valentina Marcheselli (1); Marco Serino (2); Chiara Vassillo (2)

1: University of Trento, Italy; 2: University of Naples Federico II, Italy

Topics: Ecological transitions and climate justice; Technoscientific promises, imaginaries and expectations; Methodological challenges in a more-than-human world; Innovation imaginaries, practices and policies; The value of science, technology, innovation and research practices

Keywords: Outer space, futures, earthly challenges, extreme environments, analogues

The present age is one in which the challenges about the present and future of human and more-than-human life are proliferating and becoming more and more urgent. What is questioned is, ultimately, the idea and perception of the world we live in and the related implications (Latour, 2017). While climate crisis, pandemics, and war are currently threatening life forms and forms of life (Helmreich, 2012), a renewed tension to move beyond our “terrestrial” horizon is springing from international and inter-institutional partnerships. Recent space exploration programs at once address and are shaped by new and competing technoscientific challenges. In particular, research on outer space prospects future scenarios at a global and (inter)planetary levels. In this context, technoscience builds new worlds and reshapes old ones, with projects that improve the feasibility of space missions while attempting to use or reconvert space technologies for terrestrial needs (e.g., communication, travel, weather forecasts, harvesting – often in extreme climates). What is at stake is also the way technoscience provides means to familiarize ourselves with what is other (the “alien” par excellence), to produce new kinds of knowledge and to reframe our view of the planet we live on.

The proposed panel thus aims to address the different trajectories by which technoscience meets outer space, with an eye to how these perspectives situate themselves at the interface between “our world” and “other/outer worlds”. The clash or the harmonization between these two horizons is a matter of scientific endeavors that translate into societal challenges and cultural views at the same time. For instance, critical geographers of outer space (e.g., MacDonald, 2007) have reflected on how outer space - and especially the Earth’s orbit - is already inhabited by humans and technologies which are part and parcel of our everyday life. How do advances in space technoscience as well as the increasing popularization of everyday lives on the ISS create a sense of familiarity? What does it mean to rethink our ideas about our world with reference to outer/other worlds and to consider “alternative topologies of environmental relations” (Olson and Messeri, 2015)?

Moreover, sociological inquiries into current ways of “placing outer space” (Messeri, 2016) call for a reflection on how research in different subjects - physics, engineering, agricultural science, medicine, architecture, astrophysics and astrobiology - contribute to reframe humans’ perceptions and activities on both terrestrial and extraterrestrial environments. Central to this panel are also the discussion and problematization of notions like those of “analogues” and outer/extreme environments (e.g., Helmreich, 2012; Marcheselli, 2022), and the challenges that humans and non-humans have to face in this planetary and inter-planetary perspective.

Hence, the panel aims to address questions like (but not limited to) the following:

  • How is the distinction between Earth and Outer Space negotiated understood?
  • How do natural sciences frame and reframe the study of Earthly and non-Earthly life?
  • How is space economy impacting terrestrial economies?
  • How is non-Earthly life studied through analogues and simulations on Earth?
  • What kind of narratives about Earth and Outer Space are used by scientists, engineers, politicians, entrepreneurs?
  • How is Outer Space represented in science and sci-fi?
  • How does space research address the current environmental crisis?
  • What role do humans and non-humans play in non-Earthly futures?
  • How are promises of repairing and caring for our wounded planet mirrored in discourses of outer space?