National Association of Student Anthropologists
Anthropology of Consciousness
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
How does space as a galactic frontier contribute to re-coding the value and significance of other landscapes? As the proposed site of the record-breaking Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), the summit of Hawaii’s Mauna Kea has become the focal point for redefining what it means to belong to a humankind. While astronomy prioritizes increasingly primordial questions, its instruments and projects are rapidly growing in size, scope, and capital - absorbing all high points on the global landscape as potential laboratories in the search to redefine the human genealogy.
The TMT would be the 14th telescope built on the summit despite years of resistance by many Hawaiians, who have alternate cultural, spiritual and relational claims to the land. After months of on-site protests, their challenge moved to district court where it became clear that the legal system, as founded upon scientific rationality, was unequipped to negotiate or recognize the intwinements of land, identity, and memory at stake.
Centering the contested case hearing as a particular site of conflict where Mauna Kea is encoded with value, I examine the ways in which nature plays a central role in the formation of difference and systems of governance. In particular, I analyze how Big Science, in its reliance on global capital and its attempts to totalize being, reenacts forms of settler colonialism. In doing so, I explore the kinds of power and knowledge at stake in the use of Mauna Kea, the building of telescopes, and land claims in the name of ‘universal human progress’.