In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Human Geographies of Outer Space

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Edited Collections
  • Political Geography and Critical Geopolitics
  • Economic Geographies
  • Legal Geographies
  • Environmental and Ecological Geographies
  • Cultural Geographies
  • Historical Geographies
  • ‘Other’ Spaces
  • Futures
  • Space Histories
  • Journals
  • Digital Resources

Geography Human Geographies of Outer Space
Daniel Sage, Andrew S. Maclaren
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0229


Human geographies of outer space encompass a burgeoning body of social science and humanities scholarship exploring the application of geographical perspectives, concepts, and approaches through the study of outer space, human–outer space relations, and space travel. Humanity’s engagement with outer space has everyday effects, spanning the way we act and interact with each other here on Earth—how we live with other species, and our imagined landscapes and futures. In the last decade or so, a growing number of geographers have explored these themes. However, the emergence of geographies of outer space must be understood as an innately interdisciplinary endeavor, inspired by, and inspiring, wider social science engagements with outer space. For this reason, in this guide work is included that has been published by geographers within and outside geography departments and centers, as well as those located in allied fields, particularly sociology, anthropology and organization studies. These interdisciplinary engagements are necessarily wide-ranging—in terms of their: (i) empirical objects of analyses, (ii) purpose, and (iii) theoretical influences. Empirical engagements encompass: off-world mining, astropolitics, space art, space tourism, astronomy, space-themed toys, moon landings, orbital work practices, space law and much more. In terms of purpose, although a great deal of published work consists of critiques of imperialist-nationalistic-capitalistic space activities and imaginaries, research has also increasingly sought to advance alternative, more socially inclusive visions of outer space. Geographies of outer space are also theoretically diverse, informed by David Harvey’s critique of capitalism through Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of smooth/striated space to Peter Sloterdyk’s theorization of spaces of containment. However, despite this diversity, research remains predominately Western; this is despite the longstanding presence of Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Indian space hardware and millennia of non-Western cosmographies. While this focus may partly stem from the lack of availability of research materials, it remains a challengeable trend. Nonetheless, geographical studies of outer space have certainly explored critical questions of power that are mostly absent in popular and technoscientific framings of outer space—namely, whose interests and agendas do human activities in space serve? How can outer space help us understand how to live on Earth with other peoples and species? And what futures will space activities open up or close down? These questions open up new horizons of geographical inquiry, while also returning geography to its early cosmographical origins.

General Overviews

The diversity of contributions to geographies of outer space, spanning diffuse disciplines, journals, and subfields of geographical study, can make navigating this domain of scholarship a rather disorienting prospect. Usefully, a number of publications exist which function, more or less purposefully, as guides to explore wider scholarship and lines of debate. Cosgrove 1994 and its analysis of Project Apollo photographs is the earliest of these cited here. Although this paper does not explicitly advocate for geographies of outer space, it elaborates on many themes that have concerned later geographies of outer space, from embodied experiences of spaceflight to the enrollment of cosmic imaginaries in imperialist productions of global space. It then took thirteen years for the first explicit call for a geography of outer space to emerge in the form of proposals for an “Anti-Astropolitik” in MacDonald 2007. MacDonald sketches out a wide range of possible geographical contributions to outer space scholarship by emphasizing the increasing influence of outer space in the production of everyday life on Earth. However, his most compelling contribution, and indeed that which he gives recognition to in the title of his paper, is his critique of Dolman’s “astropolitik” and related scholarship promoting the militarization of the Earth’s orbit for imperialist-nationalist projections of space power. From Cosgrove’s early work onwards, political critique has gripped much geographical scholarship on outer space. One of the most sustained geographical explorations of this subject is Sage 2014 on the role of the cosmic sublime in shaping American political and cultural geographies. Focusing mostly on the Cold War era, and later memorializations, this study details how and why outer space has become crucial to an American project of writing global space. It also examines how the organization of American space flight has transformed, and indeed challenged, this project. Such critiques of American, and wider Western, geopower continue to percolate through geographies of outer space. although they are increasingly complemented with more hopeful sentiments as recent scholars have sought to advance alternative visions of outer space. The range of contemporary scholarship is comprehensively captured in Dunnett, et al. 2019 which currently offers the most complete survey of geographical scholarship on outer space, as well as indicating a range of directions for future research.

  • Cosgrove, Dennis. “Contested Global Visions: One-World, Whole-Earth, and The Apollo Space Photographs.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 84.2 (1994): 270–294.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.1994.tb01738.x

    Cosgrove examines geocultural imaginings constructed through two widely circulated Earth photographs from Project Apollo: Earthrise and 22727 (Blue Marble). Contextualizing close visual analysis within Greek mythology, masculinity, modernist technoscience, Western imperialism, Judaeo-Christianity, environmentalism, and late capitalism, these photographs are mobilized to understand how American geopower operates by universalizing peoples, politics, and places.

  • Dunnett, Oliver, Andrew S. Maclaren, Julie Klinger, K. Maria, D. Lane, and Daniel Sage. “Geographies of Outer Space: Progress and New Opportunities.” Progress in Human Geography 43.2 (2019): 314–336.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132517747727

    Dunnett and his colleagues build on MacDonald’s previous call for geographers to engage with outer space research. They argue that although there is a burgeoning research agenda, there is still room to go. The authors then each take forward how specific geographical agendas could be developed in areas including, but not limited to, cultural, labor, political, environmental, and historical geographies.

  • MacDonald, Fraser. “Anti-Astropolitik—Outer Space and the Orbit of Geography.” Progress in Human Geography 31.5 (2007): 592–615.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132507081492

    MacDonald calls for a critical geography of outer space. His argument is premised on overcoming a challenge: outer space is not an esoteric, remote, realm but vital to everyday earthly geographies. Acknowledging overlooked cosmographical precursors in the history of geography—and then proposing possible strands of inquiry from critical astropolitics to everyday geographies of satellite navigation—MacDonald’s paper formally announces the inception of contemporary geographies of outer space.

  • Sage, Daniel. How Outer Space Made America: Geography, Organization and the Cosmic Sublime. London: Ashgate, 2014.

    Sage examines the organization of the American space program to explore how and why the United States is produced through a distinct cosmic imaginary—a “transcendental state,” a paradoxical construct, as secular as it is messianic, as exclusive as universalizing, as material as imagined, and as terrestrial as celestial. Sage elaborates the role of cosmic sublime imaginaries in hegemonic writings of global space, as well as their fragilities, excesses, and alternatives.

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