The Anthropology of Outer Space: An interdisciplinary approach to engaging undergraduates in space studies
16:30 - 16:45
Co-authors: Kathryn Denning
Outer space is often understood to be profoundly inhuman, best approached through the physical sciences alone. But space has always been entangled in human culture, through constellations, myths, calendars, celestial navigation practices, astronomical observations, religion, ideas of distant Others in the sky, and dreams of space travel. The first crewed missions in the 1960s marked our species’ initial physical steps beyond Earth, but diverse cultural conceptions and meanings of space had long preceded the spacesuits, and are still in play in popular culture. Further, the modern exploration and use of space by governments and corporations has extensive implications for everyone on Earth. Space is therefore of profound interest to students across campus, in the social sciences, sciences, humanities, business, environmental studies, and creative arts. The Anthropology of Outer Space’ at York University is (to our knowledge) the only undergraduate course in Canada explicitly focused on using anthropology to study space. Denning launched the course in 2010 to teach students from all majors to be ‘citizens of the solar system’ together, oriented to essential facts about astronomy and space exploration, and able to engage in interdisciplinary anthropological discussions about robotic vs crewed space exploration, remote observation, space resources, possible extraterrestrial life, planetary protection, planetary defense, and the militarization of space. In 2023, Wilson incorporated media studies, semiotics, language, and communication into the course. An equitable, ethical, inclusive future for space exploration and astronomy depends on tomorrow’s astrophysicists, rocket scientists AND social scientists, lawyers, politicians, activists, and artists, thinking together.