Until 2021, my research was organised into three themed categories (including publications and art-based projects):
The material culture of human spaceflight and its politics
It includes publications about the role of space industries in the Europeanization-Nationalization nexus; model of governance based on space technology and interopoerability of space stations systems; the relation between political power and transportation according to political ideals; and the use of objects and perception of the environment in the daily life during spaceflights. More recently, this theme emphasizing the ‘material’ social logics of human spaceflight, with a focus on the bodies-environment relationship, led me to develop cooperative works with designers, architects, artists, and social scientists interested into the conceptualization of future Moon habitats.
Cosmologies, colonialism and identity-building
From the Native-American criticism of the NASA space program in the 1960-70 to indigenous mobilizations against space launch facilities in French Guinea, ancestral and animist systems of beliefs in colonized cultures outline how much space exploration is not a universal ambition embedded in the human being’s nature but a cultural construction related to a certain relationship with the Earth, celestial bodies, territory, and political exercise. Moreover, it appears that cosmological cultures influence, more or less directly, both domestic space strategies and the role of these policies in identity politics. Currently, I am investigating this topic in the cases of South Africa (see the documentary “Looking for Afronauts”), and Russia.
A microsociology of international relations
This third theme includes publications emphasizing the training of astronauts and cosmonauts as a moral and carnal education structured around endurance; the gender norms that it involves; the circulation of traditions related to the Soviet space age and of models of masculinity; the role of the training for the ISS and the daily management of ground support activities in international relations among ISS partners. Since 2019, this section of my work especially emphasizes globalization — through the internationalization of Russian training methods in emerging countries (especially South Africa), the consequent circulation of industrial standards and inherited know-how, and the economic and strategic agreements that frame those circulations.
All these projects contributed to a common thread: discussing the political nature of human spaceflight as it has rarely been analyzed in social sciences and humanities — i.e. emphasizing the social, material and bodily dynamics of space exploration, furthermore empirically.
My latest research project, started in early 2021, continues my work on space politics to expand it to nontraditional territories:
Security beyond Terra: how territoriality shapes interstate conflict in ‘extreme’ environments
As once recalled by the geographer Stuart Elden, the English language has different roots for territory and geopolitics, both related to earth. This linguistic, ontological relationship with the terrestrial ground is now, however, progressively replaced with other ideas. Geopolitics is not limited to the ‘geo’ in the sense of the territory wherein politics take place and are exercised. How do ‘extreme’ territories (the Arctic, outer space, and underwater environments) affect the exercise of sovereignty, while the latter remains inextricably related to territoriality? Understudied in political theory, these ‘extreme’ territories share common features: they detain transborder resources whose uses are hardly regulated by law; they require international regulation coordinated by international organisations; they have difficult access and living conditions requiring specific techniques and technological know-how; they are trading routes; their ‘exploration’ is conceived as a sign of national prestige; they are considered as potential sites for commercialisation and tourism; and, doing so, they shape hierarchies among States depending on their financial and technological resources. These territories are also fantasised in cultural imagination and moored in colonial narratives, wherein ‘exploration’ and national expansion often goes along with scientific expeditions. While redefining the role, representations and uses of territory in national sovereignty, these territories also tend to become central strategic fields in the coming decade: they are spaces where terrestrial conflicts can expand (for instances, over the exploitation of local resources), forcing the development of innovative forms of warfare.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork and filmic method, this research project proposes to rethink the role of territoriality (i.e., its social representations, and the politics and material infrastructures resulting from these representations) in the defence of sovereignty, in the case of non-terrestrial and extreme territories. It questions how physical infrastructures, legal categories, institutions and symbolic hierarchies reproduced through time contribute to specific regimes of sovereignty – and, doing so, shape forms of inter-States conflict and security policies.