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Event Details

Panel Discussion 8 — Democracy and space


Friday, November 4, 2022


6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. CET (UTC +1)


Michael Clormann, University of Hamburg, Germany


Carson Ezell, Harvard University, USA
Kevin Castro, , Independent Researcher, USA
Giuliana Rotola, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Italy
Emily Ray, Sonoma State University, USA
Sean Parson, Northern Arizona University, USA


The pre-recorded presentations mentioned below will be available ahead of the conference and need to be watched before the panel discussion takes place.

Pre-recorded Presentations
Space Governance: Risks, Frameworks, and Futures

Carson Ezell, Harvard University, USA

Abstract: The current international space governance framework has proven unsuitable for regulating emerging and future space activities. Rapid technological progress in the outer space domain has led to increasingly fragmented, less inclusive, and less effective multilateral institutions. A failure to address gaps and fragmentation in the space governance framework can lead to increased risks from uncooperative or negligent actors. The introduction of transformative technologies, particularly more advanced artificial intelligence (AI) systems, will amplify risks associated with space development. Greater coordination and enforcement in the space domain would lead to robust improvements in long-term outcomes.

What is the Democratization of Space?

Kevin Castro, Independent Researcher, USA, Natalie Trevino, Open University, UK

Abstract: Since the early 2000s, the commercialization of human activities in outer space has inspired hopes for democratizing outer space. With private enterprises like SpaceX and Blue Origin making space increasingly accessible to an expanding range of people, the space industry appears poised to deliver the future human spaceflight advocates have long claimed could unify and bring boundless prosperity to people on Earth and beyond. Yet, we argue that the visions advertised to the popular imagination by Elon Musk and others fall short of their lofty rhetoric. Proceeding in two parts, we first recharacterize supposedly democratizing developments more accurately as liberal commercialization. We then gesture towards necessary elements of a truly democratic future. Liberalization is not an apolitical process but one that implicitly conditions humans and their activities in outer space; “liberating” outer space to be driven by market forces mutilates any commitment to space as commons and reduces humanity to laborers and consumers. Contrastingly, we argue democratization is necessarily a political project and ethical commitment. Beginning with a commitment not to frontier exploration (i.e., conquest) but rather unconditionally to human needs and dignity yields an open-ended multitude of futures defined by how people relate to and learn from one another and the universe. Democratizing outer space begins—must begin—not with a program, but with the people.

The value of ecofeminist theories in space sustainability studies

Giuliana Rotola, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Italy

Abstract: Ecofeminism theories arise from the awareness of a relational model of domination that connects ecological and feminist philosophies. Ecofeminism looks at patriarchal models of subordination that create a dichotomy of subjects, such as man and woman, and how this dichotomy is reflected in the relationship between humanity and nature, in the subordination of nature to the use and exploitation of man/humanity.
Starting from these premises, today, ecofeminism is evolving. It no longer only looks at overcoming these dichotomies, but in a more intersectional way at deconstructing more extensive structures of domination, such as those deriving from colonialism, and in this way comes to question the progressive cancellation of certain models of society such as the indigenous ones, which instead made the logic of domination and dichotomy of values in the relationship between humanity and nature less conflictual.
As humanity continues its expansion to space and aims to create a multi-planetary civilization, there is a growing need to reimagine the frameworks that have delineated space exploration until today, characterized by ideas of domination over space and its resources. Indeed, due to our own planet’s environmental perishing, we gradually realize how critical are the conversations aimed at decolonizing practices hitherto dominating humanity’s relationship with nature and, consequentially, space exploration. For this reason, this talk will present how ecofeminist investigations could be fundamental in recognizing systems of value and research approaches deemed unconventional for the guardianship of the space environment but essential for its flourishing.

The Sweeps and the Creeps: Militarizing outer space exploration in the age of climate change

Emily Ray, Sonoma State University, and Sean Parson, Northern Arizona University, USA

Abstract: From the beginning of the space race, military infrastructure, scientific data, and capitalist accumulation have been interlinked. The links have been further strengthened since the creation of Space Force and the re-creation of the National Space Council under the Trump administration. While Space Force was ridiculed by the media and liberal pundits, with Netflix even producing a comedy show mocking the program, the Biden-Harris administration has embraced these institutions and is continuing, and expanding, on what the Trump administration started. Recently, VP Kamala Harris, the chair of the National Space Council, stated that the administration will expand the “Open dissemination of Earth observation data will support both domestic and international efforts to address the climate crisis.” This paper explores using this military data for environmental management by turning to Timothy Luke and his work on eco-governmentality and eco-managerialism, Theodore Adorno and Horkheimer’s critique of institutional rationality, and Mark Fisher’s critique of “capitalist realism. The central argument of this paper is that the managerial approach–which links military data collection with scientific resources–is part of a broader project to transform climate change and the ecological crisis into an engineering project, one that does not adequately understand the central role of capitalism and industrialism in creating the metabolic rift between humans and the natural world. By focusing on managerial logic of control, the Biden-Harris policy weaponizes data and further shifts climate policy towards the realm of national security. This national securitization of climate change removes all democratic engagement with the topic, further expanding the administrative state in ways that, to follow Ranciere, promote a “hatred of democracy.”