The Final Frontier? The Enclosure of a Commons of Outer Space
CfP for the RGS-IBG Annual Conference at the Royal Geographical Society, Exhibition Road, London, 28 to 30 August 2019.
Musk’s Roadster car mounted on Falcon during his orbit of Earth in 2018; Earth in the background
“Space: The final frontier” (Star Trek TV Series, Opening Monologue)
“Capitalist production constantly strives to overcome these immanent barriers, but it overcomes them only by means that set up barriers afresh on a more powerful scale. The true barrier to capitalist production is capital itself” (Marx, 1894: 176)
In February 2018, when Elon Musk sat aboard the Falcon Heavy and blasted off into space, a new age of space exploration took off with him. His company, SpaceX, is now part of a range of corporations (funded by white male billionaires) that are competing with one another to claim the right to colonise space, Mars, the moon and even asteroids. The financial might of these corporations eclipses some of the State-led space agencies (such as NASA, who themselves are increasingly looking to private suppliers) and work is well underway here on Earth that is preparing these corporations to be the gatekeepers to the heavens.
Geographical inquiry has, in recent years, begun to shift from its traditional etymological base of ‘earth writing’, to consider the ways in which outer space is embroiled within our notions of the geographical imagination. Recent contributions from Dickens and Ormod (2016) and Dunnett et al. (2017) have attempted to shift the geographers gaze from our immediate Earthly surroundings to consider how the space of outer space inflects the way we conceptualise the myriad of geographical concerns. In addition, feminism, labour geographies, warfare, time-space compression, environmental catastrophe; they are all traditional geographical concerns that have been used in these recent writings as frames to analyse the cosmos, but they have been shown to be intimately affected by the processes of current space exploration. And from the broader social sciences, work has begun to extend the idea of the global commons into outer space (Buck, 2017).
This session therefore starts from a simple premise: if geography has its roots in ‘earth’ writing, what can the discipline contribute to the current race for near space? We are seeking contributions from a range of disciplines (geography or not), that critically examine how this new age of capitalism-inflected space exploration is changing the way life will evolve here on earth. We envision contributions that speak to the following themes (but of course, are not limited to them)
The enclosure of the commons of near space
Militarisation of the cosmos
Environmental impacts of space exploration
The planned zoning of the solar system
The geopolitics of claiming near space
Space junk and the limits of materiality
Labour geographies of space work
Political economy of asteroids
Intersectionality in outer-space
Along with the threat of thermo-nuclear war and enslavement by AI, ecological catastrophe is one of the most dangerous threats to our species; so space exploration is vital. But as critical scholars, we can’t leave this up to a powerful capitalist system that seems to be more concerned with enclosing a potential vast commonwealth that any emancipatory venture for our species. After all, do you think Elon Musk will let just anyone on his Mars colony…?
Please send a 300-word abstract to firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org by 5pm UK time on February 6th 2019. We anticipate issuing acceptance notices shortly thereafter.