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Thinking Outer Space
Philosophy, Astroculture and the Histories of Planetarity

In the past decade, scholars in the humanities and social sciences have begun to realize that the exploration of outer space was much more than a technoscientific and geopolitical enterprise. Rather, it was also an endeavour prepared and accompanied, deliberated and critiqued by a wide array of intellectuals ranging from Hannah Arendt, Hans Blumenberg and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to Carl Schmitt, Marshall McLuhan and Jean-François Lyotard. Weighing postwar world orders, environmental consciousness, cosmic solitude and human futures from an extra-terrestrial perspective, these philosophers contributed to the planetization of Earth through the thinking of space.

Held at NYU Berlin, the three-day conference Thinking Outer Space focuses on twentieth-century philosophy, astroculture and space thought. At the same time, it recognizes that contemporary understandings of outer space have also been shaped by legal agreements, state institutions and vast bodies of popular science. Aiming to globalize the study of astroculture, the conference transcends the intellectual boundaries of the major space-faring nations. As such, it seeks to engage with the rich and heterogenous cosmologies found in non-western, postcolonial and indigenous contexts.

At present, successive waves of geopolitical competition and commercial speculation are putting outer space back at the center of worldwide attention. State and corporate plans for returning to the Moon and colonizing Mars are capturing the public imagination and budgets alike, while the threat of military confrontation and environmental destruction beyond Earth is ever-expanding. How philosophers and public intellectuals from a variety of disciplinary, political and cultural backgrounds conceptualized and communicated outer space is crucial to comprehending what some have been quick to label the rise of a ‘new’ or ‘second’ Space Age.

Examining the intellectual and ethical foundations of present-day planetarity, Thinking Outer Space brings together historians, geographers, anthropologists, ethnographers, literary scholars, political scientists, scholars of religion and sociologists. Over the course of three days and across nine chronologically and thematically arranged panels, thirty participants from a dozen countries will debate topics ranging from the so-called planetary turn, nineteenth-century protoplanetarianism and cosmic philosophies to the making of space law,  narratives and poetics of planetization, and planetary ethnographies. 

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