Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mars Habs and Anthropology

One strand of emergent anthropology that I've been following over the years has been the "anthropology of outer spaces,"  one recently given new life by a few anthropologists, Deborah Battaglia and David Valentine among them, who have begun to theorize space not just as shadow of terrestrial geo-politics, but as "reconstituting humanness and human sociality in the here and now" (Valentine, Olson and Battaglia 2009: 11).

Space is one of the paramount sites for the legitimation of Western configurations of power/knowledge.  The kinds of futures people ascribe to space--e.g., the military-technocratic order of Star Trek: the Next Generation--have a lot to do with the apotheosis of colonialism under the auspices of neo-liberal capitalism (Kilgore 2005).  But there are different possibilities as well--as Vaelntine et al point out.

But some of these possible, alternative futures are happening right here, in the form of Mars simulations placing groups of scientist-volunteers in a "hab" environment for long periods of time (from a few weeks to, in the case of the ongoing Russia/ ESA project, a few months), during which communications with the Earth are severely truncated and people should "suit up" before going outside, etc.  Sure, as Valentine et al point, only 500 people may have inhabited space, but how many thousands more have enacted life in outer spaces?  

The Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) has been around for some time--since 2002, and has been joined by other habs as part of the Mars Analog Research Station (MARS) project.   Over the last 7 seasons, teams have gone to the station, simkulated their Mars colony, and posted lots of repoprts and updates.  Lots of these present and former para-astronauts have left behind their blogs--"Mars, ho!".

OK--some of this looks an awful lot like those dismal Star Trek futures, but there are occasionally intimations of sometghing else.  Together, all of these records, journals and reports suggest other possibilities--challenges to race, gender and class.  Possibilities for a playful and emancipatory outer space. 


 Kilgore, De Witt Douglas (2003).  Astrofuturism.  Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania. 

Valentine, David, Valerie Olson and Debbora Battaglia (2009).  "Encountering the Future."  Anthropology News: December, pp. 11+.