Alica Zimmerlin (UCL) - 2018-19 Students

Anthropology of the Outer-Space: Worlding at JAXA

The intimate and extensive processes of ‘worlding’ (Heidegger 1993) at the ISS can best be encapsulated in the activity that most holds the imagination of its inhabitants and which lies at the heart of the political aesthetics here: Earth-gazing. Greatly intensifying the overview effect, this is an almost compulsive need, often described as ‘addictive’, to simply watch the Earth.

Worlding at the most intimate and embodied level, takes on a cosmological dimension and scale unimaginable in Heidegger’s original formulation but by no means unrecognisable (see Oliver 2015).

My research proposes an innovative, systematic and comparative ethnographic study over five years, across the nexus of national space programmes that constitute JAXA. Japan, lying between competing political authorities in space, provides the largest international module, the KIBO module. However, there is no scholarship to date in the anglophone tradition that has attempted to penetrate the political aesthetics at play in the process of ‘worlding’ at the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA).

Robotic/human interfaces are a vital component in space habitation such as NASA’s robot ‘Robonaut’. However, ‘annihilation anxiety’ (Richardson, 2015) challenging the nature of human subjectivity shoots through all these approaches as Aiken (2015a,b; 2013) has demonstrated in her work at NASA. Japan lies between competing political authorities in space, yet provides the largest international module, the KIBO module, along with its robotic arms. I will examine how existing Japanese concepts related to robotics are enacted at the ISS and provide a comparative frame with which to understand similar robotic practices (consider Vertesi 2015), namely those surrounding NASA’s ‘Robonaut’ which will complement the work on bodily hybrids and built form at the ISS alongside the other educational and experimental aspects of the ISS JAXA KIBO module both terrestrially and extra-terrestrially in its attendant communities.

The theme here to be explored is how this new human/robotic hybrid is constituted both at the ISS and on the ground at JAXA. It will examine how existing Japanese concepts related to robotics are enacted at the ISS and provide a comparative frame with which to understand practices surrounding NASA’s robot ‘Robonaut’.

My research on the KIBO module will provide an additional in depth comparative perspective on the theme of visuality and sovereignty complementing Jeevendrampillai’s work as it relates to the monitoring of the environment on Earth.

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