Decolonial Space

What are the political implications and effects of efforts to expand our human awareness and presence beyond the Earth’s atmosphere? 

Decolonial Space is a collaboration between Enrike van Wingerden and Darshan Vigneswaran dedicated to the development of critical theories on outer space, power, and politics. We are interested in the political, economic, and cultural factors that drive human exploration and exploitation of outer space environments and resources. We investigate the forms of technology and power being developed to place man-made infrastructures and humans in outer space, to extract value from these sorts of ventures and the resulting frameworks of power and authority these efforts engender. 

This project is built by reviewing and critically examining why International Relations scholars have neglected and struggled to understand the importance of outer space and by exploring how ‘decolonial’ and ‘more-than-human’ theories can help fill this lacuna. We will develop this project by establishing networks across the social and natural sciences and into the space sector, in order to further our understanding of politics and space. 

At present, we are expanding this network in multiple ways. 

  • We are working with colleagues at the University of Chicago to build a database of space sector actors – academic, governmental and corporate who are working on projects that are dedicated to placing humans beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. 
  • We are building a comprehensive database of social scientific work on outer space, which we aim to make publicly available.
  • We are conducting a small-scale study of ethnographic methodology and space research, in the attempt to more clearly identify how colleagues can conduct in-depth research into outer space (while remaining on Planet Earth).

Over the longer term, we are working towards two larger research projects:

  1. Satellite Empire investigates the geopolitics of satellite infrastructure. Hypothesizing that satellite vision brings about new forms of power, this project empirically examines how scientists, companies, and governments assert control over environments important for satellite infrastructure. Through a multi-sited ethnography of planned satellite launch sites in the biodiverse and (post)colonial equatorial zone, it traces the connections between developments in space and more-than-human politics on Earth (PI: Enrike van Wingerden).
  2. Decolonizing Outer Space seeks to track the emerging principles governing human presence in outer space. By conducting in-depth ethnographic research into missions to send humans across the Earth system, solar system and galaxy, and building an archive of outer space colonization imaginaries, this project seeks to enrich our understanding of the emerging ‘constitutional order’ of outer space colonization, while providing engineers, activists, artists and administrators with the critical tools to build more just outer space futures (PI: Darshan Vigneswaran).