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Prog Hum Geogr 2007 MacDonald 592 615

Apr 07, 2018



  • 8/6/2019 Prog Hum Geogr 2007 MacDonald 592 615

    1/25 in Human Geography online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132507081492

    2007 31: 592Prog Hum GeogrFraser MacDonaldouter space and the orbit of geography


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    Progress in Human Geography 31(5) (2007) pp. 592615

    2007 SAGE Publications DOI: 10.1177/0309132507081492

    Anti-Astropolitik outer space and

    the orbit of geographyFraser MacDonald*

    School of Anthropology, Geography and Environmental Studies,University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia

    Abstract: This paper aims to establish outer space as a mainstream concern of critical geography.

    More than half a century after humans first cast their instruments into orbit, contemporary humangeography has been slow to explore the myriad connections that tie social life on Earth to the celestialrealm. My starting point is a return to an early-modern geographical imagination that acknowledgesthe reciprocity between heaven and earth. Although other disciplinary engagements are discussed,this project represents the first systematic attempt to explore how outer space both challenges andreanimates the geo of geography. The example of Global Satellite Navigation Systems is used toillustrate what is currently at stake in the military contest for geopolitical control of Earths orbit.Nigel Thrifts work on the technological refashioning of precognitive sociality is contextualizedwithin those systems of state geopower that sustain the everyday uplinking and downlinking to andfrom space hardware. Lastly, the paper offers a critique of the application of classical geopolitics toouter space in the form of astropolitics and its will-to-power variant ofAstropolitik.

    Key words:Astropolitik, geography, geopolitics, orbit, outer space, surveillance.

    *Email: [email protected]

    Although the airplane opened up the sky, andthe radio tower filled the air with waves neither made the limits of the Earth entirelyvisible or transparent. Space technologyclosed the sky again, bounded it from aboveand sealed it whole. Only then could the skybecome fully modern in an active, techno-logical sense, and only then could what laybeyond it become meaningful as space, avast sea of darkness surrounding a blue and

    green point of human place. At last the worldwas one. (Redfield,2000)

    I IntroductionLet me acknowledge from the outset thatthis is a slightly odd paper. It deals with what

    may seem like a superficial doubling of theword space: as both the primary analyticof contemporary human geography and asthe popular term for the expanse in whichsolar and stellar systems are located. To putit succinctly, this paper attempts to applythe insights of the former to pressing geo-political questions about the latter; it is myintention, in other words, to develop an agendafor a critical geography of outer space. Givenhow adept geographers have become inthinking philosophically about space, onemight expect this to be a relatively modestundertaking. We conceive of space as being

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    Fraser MacDonald: Anti-Astropolitik outer space and the orbit of geography 593

    produced through social action (Lefebvre,1991); space as relational (Massey, 2005);space as a site where justice can be addressed(Dike, 2005). Our analyses of space havebeen among the most significant advancesfor the discipline, attracting interest from

    across the humanities and social sciences.But surely I am not the only geographer who,on trying to explain to the uninitiated thatour discipline is no longer about maps, hasresorted to space as my analytical trumpcard, only to be met with a quizzical look anda finger pointing upwards: what? you meanspace?. This, I have concluded, is not sucha bad question.

    If this undertaking sounds esoteric, then Ihope to demonstrate that it is a lacuna in con-

    temporary geographical scholarship thatshould be addressed with some urgency.Given that outer-Earth has been a sphere ofhuman endeavour for well over 50 years, acritical geography of space is long overdue.Our presence in, and reliance on, space hasbecome one of the enabling conditions forour current mode of everyday life in the west.Yet it lies, for the most part, outside the orbitof geography. I do not want to put at risk agreat deal of our abstract thinking about

    space as an analytic (elegantly manifest, forinstance, in Doreen MasseysFor space) by set-ting up the cosmos as some great out there(Massey, 2005). It is precisely contemporaryhuman geographys relational understandingof space that makes it a good disciplinarylaunch pad for considering the meaning andpolitics of space exploration. Lest anyonethink that what follows are the musings ofa sci-fi fantasist, let me make clear that I amnot really a fan of the genre. My interests are

    more down-to-earth: I write as a historicalgeographer who has come to think about outerspace through researching test sites for cold-war rocketry (see MacDonald, 2006a). Thefact that this paper is written from a modesttechnical and scientific understanding doesnot, I hope, constrain the discussion of outerspace as a sphere of the social. This essay isborne out of a conviction that what is at

    stake politically and geopolitically in thecontemporary struggle over outer space istoo serious to pass without critical comment.As the future conquest of space representsa potentially unprecedented opportunityto enact politicomilitary control on Earth,

    most plausibly by the worlds only super-power, such an awesome concentration ofstate power demands scrutiny.

    What, then, is the status of outer spacein 2007? Stanley Kubricks classic film 2001:A Space Odyssey, made in 1968, may not haveentirely come to pass but neither was it verywide of the mark. Space has been inhabitedby humans, with relatively short absencesfor the last 20 years, and without interruptionsince 2 November 2000. Our species is now

    represented in space by the crew of the Inter-national Space Station (ISS). At $100 billion,the ISS is the most expensive piece of tech-nology ever built (Jha, 2006). There arecurrently around 700 operational spacecraftin continuous orbit of the Earth, serving a var-iety of military, civilian and commercial uses(Johnson, 2004: 81). Over 60 new launchestake place every year, and at least 35 nationsnow have payloads in orbit. Despite the endof the Cold War, a thaw which is widely

    thought to have restrained progress in thefield (Dolman, 2002), space explorationcontinues apace. For instance, both Americanand European unmanned vehicles haveexplored the surface of Mars, beaming backhigh-resolution pictures of the Martian sur-face, including its icefields. Forty years sincethe first Russian space probe landed onVenus, a new major European Space Agencyeffort was launched in November 2005 tostudy the surface and atmosphere of Earths

    sister planet. Again, nearly 40 years after thefirst moon landings and despite numeroussetbacks for NASA (Vaughan, 1996; 2004),George W. Bush is planning a symbolic re-turn lunar mission in 2018 a renewed spiritof discovery as a means of mobilizing publicsupport for further American investment inspace dominance (see Stadd and Bingham,2004).

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    594 Progress in Human Geography 31(5)

    Among the technical and logistical ad-vances in space technology too numerousto detail here, there are two tendencies thatstand out. First, space and in particular theLower Earth Orbit (LEO) can no longerbe considered remote. The journey through

    the Earths atmosphere is now made onan almost weekly basis. Such is the steadypassage of space vehicles that there is nowa growing literature on traffic management(Johnson, 2004; Lla, 2004). The costs ofentering space are now so low that

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