An Ethnography of an Extra-terrestrial Society: the International Space Station
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement No. 833135).
The International Space Station (ISS) is arguably the oldest extra-terrestrial society in low earth orbit. To date this radical new form of human habitation and society has not been the object of systematic and comparative ethnographic inquiry. This project aims to correct this and proposes a comparative and multi-sited ethnography of the ISS among some of the key participants contributing to its modular architecture: The United States, Russia, Europe and Japan. The ISS offers invaluable insights into fundamental questions at the heart of the social sciences. The most obvious is the effect of micro gravity on our understandings of material culture and sociality. To date material culture has only been theorised in terms of Earth’s gravity.
This project affords the opportunity to critically re-examine our terrestrially based theories. Related to this are the distinctive political aesthetics in this setting and its innovative dimensions of ‘worlding’ (Heidegger) and the materialities entailed therein. These relate to wider notions: the nature of transcendence in both anthropological, material and metaphysical terms as well as broader issues concerning territoriality and the expansion of the human and habitability and general understandings of materiality. Methodologically the project focuses on the quotidian and material dimensions of the ISS and its bodily and material techniques, re-examining traditional empirical assumptions within the innovative conditions of the new polymedia environments in which the ISS is situated. More importantly the project situates the respective Mission Controls and their wider communities as co-terminous with the ISS site, examining it as a complex nexus of inhabitation encompassing both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial realms in a novel configuration and thereby provide the first ever integrative and comparative study of this unprecedented form of human society and the material conditions of its emergent ‘worlding’.
- Jo Aiken
Jo’s research interests and professional work lie at the intersection of organizational and design anthropology. She has over 20 years experience at NASA working in various roles from Mission Control to human factors engineering to executive leadership consulting. With continued interests in organizational culture, user experience, innovation and the future, Jo is currently engaging with the question of the body and performance as extended to the materiality of the International Space Station.
- Aiken, Jo (2015). “Otherworldly Anthropology: Past, Present, and Future Contributions of Ethnographers to Space Exploration.” In Applied Anthropology: Unexpected Spaces, Topics and Methods. Sheena Nahm, Cortney Hughes Rinker, eds. Routledge.
- Aiken, Jo (2015). “Space in Space: Designing for Privacy in the Workplace.” Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings. Redmond, WA: National Association for the Practice of Anthropology. Paper accepted May 2015.
- Aiken, Jo (2012). “Integrating Organizational and Design Perspectives to Address Challenges of Renewal: A Case Study of NASA’s Post-Shuttle Workforce Transition.” Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference Proceedings. Redmond, WA: National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.
- Space Anthropology, Course for Masters Program in Space Studies. International Space University, Strasbourg, France, 2016.
- Privacy Needs for Long-Duration Spaceflight: An Anthropological Approach. Human Factors and Ergonomic Society Symposium, College Station, Texas, 2014.
- Victor Buchli
Victor is Professor of Material Culture within the Material Culture Group at UCL and works on the material culture of Low Earth Orbit, architecture, domesticity, the archaeology of the recent past, and critical understandings of materiality and new technologies. Currently he is Principal Investigator of the 5 year European Research Council funded research project: ETHNO-ISS: An Ethnography of an Extraterrestrial Society: the International Space Station (ERC Advanced Grant, no. 833135) and is one of the theme leaders of the ESA_lab@UCL.
- 2020 Buchli, V. (forthcoming) ‘Extra-terrestrial methods: towards an ethnography of the ISS’, in T. Carroll et al. Lineages and Advancements in Material Culture Studies: Perspective from UCL Anthropology, London: Bloomsbury
- 2020 Buchli, V. (forthcoming) ‘Low Earth Orbit: A speculative ethnographer’s guide’ in W. Bracewell et al. Anti-Atlas: Towards a Critical Area Studies, London: UCL Press
- 2018 ‘Interview’ in We all Love Your Life, George Henry Longly, Red Bull
- 2019 ETHNO-ISS: An Ethnography of an Extra-terrestrial Society: the International Space Station, Joint Departmental Seminars, Dept. of Anthropology, University College London
- 2019 ‘To the Moon and Back’, Bloomsbury Festival, Conway Hall, October 20
- Giles Bunch
Giles is a doctoral student at UCL, carrying out anthropological research into training for astronauts and ground crews at European Space Agency. His research focuses on how spaceflight practitioners conceptualise human behaviour, health, sociality, and the body in outer space and on Earth; in the present, as well as the deep future.
- Timothy Carroll
As an Associate Scholar attached to ETHNO-ISS, Dr. Carroll’s focus within the project is on the notions of transcendence and the discourse, especially in the Russian context, between scientific progress and discovery, and theological conceptions and religious practices – both in the official discourse of Russian Orthodox Christianity and in the folk and un-orthodox expressions seen throughout the Soviet and Russian space exploration. With a research background in clothing as a technical apparatus, Timothy is also interested in space suites and other wearable tech used within off-Earth contexts.
- Jenia Gorbanenko
Jenia is a doctoral student on the ETHNO-ISS project, with a specialism in the anthropology of religion in space. Her current research interrogates the Russian Orthodox Christian perspective on space exploration.
- David Jeevendrampillai
Dr David Jeevendrampillai writes about relations between place, territory and belonging. He researches the curation, narration and use of Earth Imagery from the International Space Station, particularly in relation to the overview effect and the relation to emergent notions of humanity, utopia and the future.
2020, Jeevandrampillai, D. and A. Parkhurst, Towards An Anthropology of Gravity: Emotion and Embodiment in Microgravity Environments, Emotion, Space & Society, vol 35
- ‘Making a Martian Feel at Home: Utopian Design in Building a Mars Habitat’, Collège de France, Summer 2019
- Conference Convener & Chair: Towards An Anthropology of Outer Space, UCL Institute of Advanced Studies, London, 2017.
- ‘Building a Home on Mars: Utopian Design and making Martians’, Departmental Seminar, NTNU Anthropology
- Adryon Kozel
Adryon completed her MSc in Social and Cultural Anthropology from UCL in 2019, specialising in the anthropology of place, home, and identity. As a Doctoral Student and Associate Researcher with ETHNO-ISS, Adryon researches how astronauts' and space agencies' use of social media reinforces and constructs global and extraterrestrial culture.
- Aliça Okumura-Zimmerlin
- Aaron Parkhurst
International Advisory Board
- Debbora Battaglia (Mount Holyoke College, USA)
- Xavier de Kestelier (Hassell Studio, UK)
- Alice Gorman (Flinders University, Australia)
- Lisa Messeri (Yale University, USA)
- Matthew Napoli (Made in Space, USA).
- Valerie Olson (University of California Irvine, USA)
- David Valentine (University of Minnesota, USA)
London Advisory Board
- Susan Collins (Slade School of Fine Art)
- Gonzalo Herrero Delicado (Royal Academy of Arts)
- Irene Gallou (Foster + Partners)
- Kate Arkless Gray (Space Journalist)
- Sanjeev Gupta (Imperial College London)
- Jonathan Irving (Hassell Studio)
- Rob La Frenais (Curator)
- Anna Talvi (Microgravity-Wear Designer)
- Iya Whiteley (University College London)