A busy week coming up with a number of exciting events a couple of which I am speaking at.
First up is the ‘Post-Planetary Capital Symposium’ at the Center for Transformative Media at the New School/Parsons Design School in New York organized by Ed Keller (the center’s director) and Ben Woodard (whose work myself, Kai Bosworth and Harlan Morehouse recently reviewed at Society and Space) I’ll be speaking alongside a great line up of artists, architects, designs, media theorists and philosophers, many of them friends, including Kai, Julieta Aranda, Ben Bratton, Keith Tilford,MacKenzie Wark, Amanda Beech, Deneb Kozikoski, amongst others. Ed and Ben have put together a great program around a really exciting topic. The event is free requires tickets, available here, and the description written by Ed and Ben is below:
As the dull glow of nationalism and cold war politics has faded from governmental space programs it is little surprise that space exploration has undergone widespread privatization.Yet it is only recently that potentially massive profitability has accelerated off-planet projects, replacing narrower and perhaps unrealistic dreams of space tourism with asteroid mining (purportedly a multi-trillion dollar industry) and long term Mars colonization. Such projects present an odd combination of new technologies (especially advanced robotics) and lower cost older technologies (rocket propulsion) deployed in unfamiliar and lawless territory. While much has been said regarding the internal limits of capital, much yet remains to be said about how capitalist imperatives can be taken off-world, questioning whether capital[ism] has external limits as it begins to spread across the solar system and out into space. Is the fact that asteroid mining extends an old logic of environmental degradation rendered moot by its non-terrestrial location? Does off-world colonization by non-governmental entities lay troubling ground work for the advent of mega-corporations and unregulatable capitalism? Furthermore, the complicity between capitalist expansion and space exploration which centers upon large-scale collective action potentially questions stock oppositions between capital and ecological betterment, technological progression and radical politics, as well as space travel and non-national collectivity. This one day symposium aims to address the potential strategies and claims surrounding these issues.
I’m really glad to have a chance involved in this conversation as I’ve had plans for a project on the extra-planetary geopolitics and the philosophical questions about the future of space exploration for the last 18 months or so but have not had time to dig in to it yet. I’ll be writing a chapter around this material for Capitalism and the Earth, a book forthcoming from Punctum and edited by Nigel Clark, Arun Saldanha and Kathryn Yusoff that I mentioned here before. This will give me an opportunity to lay out some initial lines of inquiry although nothing is worked out as yet. I’ve included my abstract below (the ‘beyond the beyonds’ of the title being an Irish phrase for something rash, excessive and irrational):
Beyond the Beyonds: The Political Horizon of Extra-Planetary Expansion
Any ‘true to the planet’ thinking must recognize the earth’s inherently post-planetary condition. Whether we consider its dependence on the sun’s energy or the more speculative thesis of cosmic panspermia, it is clear that life on the terrestrial nugget is constitutively entangled with inhuman forces beyond. Indeed, since the development of the Cold War space programs, human activity has been shaping the nature of this post-planetary condition, and has intensified to such an extent that the prosthetic halo of satellites orbiting the planet has not only become integral to the operation of global social systems (communications, logistics agriculture, finance, infrastructure, warfare), but also their convergence with the earth’s natural forces, molding the contours of the Anthropocene and forming an extra-planetary strata that dilates the ‘planet’ beyond the bounds of its atmospheric membrane. Yet today we appear on the cusp of a new ‘frontier’ of expansion in extra-planetary activity, defined not only by familiar patterns of techno-military competition between states, but the emergence of commercial actors speculating in off-sourced extractive industries and the colonization of astral bodies. Such ventures have a long history in cosmic speculation but have taken on new significance in light of increased technological viability and an awareness that capitalism is fast bringing the planet to the point of ‘burn out’. This paper seeks to question some of the geopolitical implications of this ‘second space age’. Is it likely to simply mark the further extension of existing patterns of inter-state competition and capitalist accumulation into extra-planetary space, or rather might it radically transform existing relations between space and the political, both on and off earth, reformulating the economic, ecological, and juridical bases of governing geopolitical formations? This paper will argue that if we jettison the terrestrial myopia in which so much of our thinking is mired then the latter is a clear possibility – the question then becoming how to steer the development of extra-planetary activity and its feedback effects on earth. The fact that those driving recent developments appear to aspire to little more than the astral expansion of capitalist accumulation as a sort of spatio-energetic fix to stave off economic collapse and mass extinction, should not deter us from embracing the transformative potential of this new horizon and imagining the possibility of post-capitalist futures for the post-planetary condition. The paper will nonetheless conclude by highlighting some of the fundamental challenges that face any attempt to think politically within the unpredictable horizon of future space exploration, a domain in which conceptual frameworks, founding principles and guiding programs formulated in relation to centuries-old, earth-bound social forms may no longer be adequate.
This is followed the next day by another event at the Center of Transformative Media, Function: Decomposition, Localization, Abstraction, a workshop on functionalism in philosophy with Ray Brassier, Reza Negarestani and Daniel Sacilitto. Reza and Ray write: “This workshop will try to unravel the metaphysical, epistemic, and engineering aspects of functionalism by developing themes from the work of philosophers including William Bechtel, Robert Brandom, Wilfrid Sellars, and William Wimsatt.” Its the first time Reza and Ray will be speaking together in NY since they spoke together at the event I organized last summer with Jenny Jaskey at Miguel Abreu gallery. Its not an area I know much about but which I keen to learn more about given that these ideas play an influence role in the philosophical underpinnings of Reza and Ray’s work and in the discussions around accelerationism thought more broadly.
Later in the week I’ll be speaking at the ‘After 400 ppm: Science, Politics, and Social Natures in the Anthropocene’ conference at Rutger’s University in New Jersey. I’m excited to take part in this event as I don’t know many of the other speakers, so it should be a good opportunity to meet some interesting new people with shared concerns. Sarah Whatmore of Oxford University is the keynotes speaker on Thursday and it will be good to see her talk – her work on non-human geographies had a big influence on me some years ago, as did Political Matter, the book so co-edited some years ago with Bruce Braun. I’ve included the abstract of my paper below, which will be a version of the short text, ‘Notes on Politics After the Anthropocene’ I published recently in Progress in Human Geography.
Politics After the Anthropocene?
The Anthropocene is not a problem for which there can be a solution. Rather it names an emergent set of geo-social conditions that already fundamentally structure the horizon of human existence. It is thus not a new factor that can be accommodated within existing conceptual frameworks, but rather signals a profound shift in relations between social and earth systems that puts these very frameworks in question. The Anthropocene is therefore not simply a disputed designation in geological periodization but a philosophical event that has powerful reverberations in the field of political thought. In contrast to ‘the global,’ which suggests a relatively flat, anthropocentric conception of the earth focused on social relations on the earth’s surface, ‘the planetary’ points to a more complex, volumic, stratified understanding of an earth constituted through dynamic geo-social entanglements. Accordingly, the Anthropocene creates opportunities to develop forms of thought in which the planet itself is a key player in the drama of human politics rather than simply its stage. This paper seeks to examine some of the challenges this rendering of the Anthropocene might present to political thought, and what forms of politics might be adequate to face them? It focuses on three broad areas: the relationship between the scale and form of politics; the subject of the Anthropocene; and the relationship between technology and politics. In so doing it seeks to examine how the messy geo-social entanglements of the Anthropocene may question existing understanding of the political whilst opening new terrains for political struggle.