The Planetary Imagination: Digital Maps, Virtual Presence, and Being on Other Worlds

October 19, 2018 - 3:00pm to 4:00pm

Lisa Messeri, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

World-making as social practice describes the ways in which people construct complex networks of place, thought, meaning, and imagination. Attending to acts of worlding invites translocal reflections, while remaining anchored in local origins. Rarely, however, do such worlds encompass entire planets. This talk looks at a community for whom producing worlds at the planetary scale is of central import. Today’s planetary scientists – those studying planets both within and beyond our solar system – are world-makers in the most literal of senses. They transform invisible bodies of rock, gas, and ice into intimate and tangible planetary places. In this talk, I examine the practice of such world-making and its centrality to contemporary scientific work. Planetary scientists at NASA and in universities draw on a variety of techniques – both scientific and discursive – to produce worlds. I will discuss the work of producing 3D maps of Mars by scientists at NASA to tie their laboratory practices to the imaginative venture of world-making. Further, I will reflect on how the ability to think at the planetary scale is instructive for anthropologists, as we strive to make sense of global phenomena.