Istvan Praet | Anthropologist, Durham University

Durham University

Istvan Praet lectures anthropology at Durham University. Trained in social anthropology, he focuses on modern modes of knowledge, and on astrobiology more specifically. Astrobiology is the umbrella term for the endeavour to understand life at a cosmic level, and encompasses a wide spectrum of disciplines ranging from astronomy and microbiology to geochemistry and planetary science. He seeks to provide a nuanced understanding of this cross-disciplinary melting pot. His research is based on multi-sited ethnographic research conducted in Western Europe and the US since 2010. It concentrates on how scientists involved in contemporary space exploration make the alien familiar and vice versa, and it shows how they remake objectivity itself in the process. With his colleagues in outer space studies, he resists the common tendency to narrow space exploration to the technologically ambitious but conceptually old-fashioned projects of a handful of rocket-obsessed space billionaires and their acolytes. He is interested in how space researchers reimagine the extraterrestrial without having recourse to neocolonialist templates of exploitation and conquest. The exploration of outer space, it turns out, is not just a matter of rocket science but also an adventure of ideas.

Anthropology of science/ outer space studies/ science and modernity/ neocolonialism/ the history of objectivity