Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
“Ground” is an earthly phenomenon, whether as a metaphor for seriousness or rootedness; in its material capacities to nurture growth; or in relation to its colonial manifestations as stolen territory. Indeed, “Earth” and “ground” are synonyms for one another. In this paper, however, I draw on a decade of research among entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers who are making plans to ground human futures off Earth, in sites ranging from the surface of Mars, the moons of the outer planets, and the interiors of artificially constructed, rotating, cylindrical free-space colonies. While most critical approaches to space settlement advocacy problematize its extension of grounded imperial and capitalist relations to the cosmos, I argue that the actual conditions of that-which-might-be-ground in the multiple places of outer space vary radically. I argue that this variation—not only from Earth, but also between and among these places—has consequences for what “ground” may come to do and mean in those places. Examining fifty years of space advocacy planning for human space settlements, I ask: (1) what kinds of material and analytic ground are assumed by terrestrial critiques of space settlement in advance of its actual, grounded materialization? And (2) alternately, what grounded, decolonizing, and unsettling future imaginings emerge if, rather than rejecting these visions outright, we think through the material conditions, analytic possibilities, and political potentials of other grounded places in the cosmos?