he past decade has seen an increasing involvement from the private sector in all aspects of Outer Space operations – ranging from launch capacities to satellite capabilities, and recently expanding to include manned space launches (Grady, 2017: Luscombe and Sample, 2020). Taken collectively, these private-sector activities comprise the New Space Economy (NSE). The NSE is not limited to current operations; various actors are advocating for a privatised extractive industry to be developed, specifically around asteroid mining (BBC News, 2012: Johnson et al., 2014: Rincon, 2013). These actors are seeking to legitimise asteroid mining efforts not only through the physical and legislative enclosure of Outer Space but through the enclosure of imaginative spaces also. Whilst asteroid mining was touted in the late 1970s and 1980s (McCurdy, 2011), it has returned with increased enthusiasm and traction; several asteroid mining companies having been founded since 2012 [1]. Advocates of asteroid mining offer a variety of justifications for their proposed endeavours, ranging from an environmental impetus due to climate change (Johnson et al., 2014) to the ability of asteroid materials to be used as spatial extension resources [2]. The primary impetus, however, is the industry’s estimated value. The resources asteroid mining companies seek to extract – broadly grouped as water, industrial metals, platinum group elements, and volatiles – are typically discussed in the trillions and quintillions (see Desjardins, 2016 for some discussion and infographics).

However, despite the enthusiasm of asteroid mining advocates, the proposed extractive industry is not unproblematic. Whilst the narratives surrounding asteroid mining frame this industry’s future as something certain – discussed in advertising material, websites, and NSE circles in the affirmative – there are still many unanswered questions. Aside from issues of technological and fiscal viability, uncertainty remains surrounding ownership, land rights, and whose future this industry speaks of, for, and mobilises. Due to such uncertainties, actors with vested interests are seeking to enclose the Global Common of Outer Space, ‘opening’ the ‘final frontier’ to what some commentators are referring to as a modern Gold Rush (Cofield, 2016: Elvis and Milligan, 2019: Pandya, 2019). This pursual of enclosure relies – broadly speaking – on the same underlying principle(s) as the enclosure of commons historically and lobbying efforts have resulted in these arguments appearing in legislation in several countries [3]. These manoeuvres to privatise Outer Space rely not only on the enclosure of physical and legislative places but also seek to enclose imaginative spaces through the process(es) of disimagination. Broadly conceived, disimagination is a process that curtails our ability to think critically and imagine new futures through cultural apparatuses and public pedagogies designed to erase the multiplicity of historical realities that deviate from the hegemonic ‘norm’ (Didi-Huberman, 2008: Giroux, 2014). Whilst this concept has been used in Didi-Huberman’s discussion of the destruction of concentration camp materials and Giroux’s work on critical pedagogy and civic rights, the process of disimagination is operating within and upon discourses of Outer Space, as I discuss later in this piece. These attempts at disimagination are not going unchallenged, however, with Ethnofuturist works disrupting the oftentimes de facto futures of Outer Space and asteroid mining. Ethnofuturism critically responds to the disimagination process as it combines the Ethno- (the archaic, indigenous, or cultural histories of peoples) and -futurism (deemed the cosmopolitan, urban, and technological) (Hennoste, 2012). Consequently, Ethnofuturism can be construed as a process by and through which histories that deviate from the hegemonic ‘norm’ are reinvigorated and mobilised to (re)produce alternative discourses of futurity. ‘Ethnofuturism’ here is used as an umbrella term that contains within it futurisms from a variety of groups and people. Examples of such futurisms include, but are not limited to: Afrofuturism, Aotearoa futurism, Cambrofuturism, and Sinofuturism. The following discusses enclosure, disimagination, and Ethnofuturism to problematise these futures of asteroid mining: highlighting how popular NSE discourses draw upon a Eurocentric rendition of a ‘Grand Historical Narrative’. Through this, we may begin to challenge the totalising concept of ‘humanity’ [4] oft-invoked by asteroid mining advocates and turn a more critical lens to these purported futures and the discourses (re)created to justify them.

Enclosure and Neoliberal Logic(s)

Along with increasing interest from private actors, discussions surrounding the enclosure of Outer Space – and asteroid mining more specifically – has seen growing coverage in recent years, several countries having passed legislation to begin legalising and encouraging extraterrestrial extractivism [5]. Manoeuvres to enclose the extraterrestrial common and begin mining operations necessitate the establishment of a rights regime to ensure any disputes over access and ownership can be resolved. This opens a regulatory ‘frontier’ through which issues of land tenure and ownership can be thrashed out, taking on significance through its ability to greatly influence influxes of capital into these operations and mineralogical deposits (Bridge, 2004). Through the regulatory enclosure of Outer Space, a regime of exclusion can be implemented whereby (il)legitimate forms of use and abuse can be differentiated and associated boundaries inscribed through physical and discursive means (Li, 2014: Steinberg, 2018).

Private NSE actors have sought to influence these legislative processes through lobbying, advertising materials, press conferences, business forums, and public and private talks. This has culminated in a process of enclosure wherein similar justifications to past enclosures are mobilised and reanimated. Once more, ‘production’ and the ability to ‘work’ a resource are becoming the modus operandi through which ownership over the common is being exerted (Wood, 2017), finding explicit articulation in the US SPACE Act 2015. The mobilisation and perpetuation of this discourse is coupled with the perversion of the common heritage principle. To refrain from extracting minerals throughout Outer Space is to (supposedly) ‘waste’ their potential and deprive future generations of the benefits this industry purports to provide (Steinberg, 2018).

Figure 1: A picture taken at a New Space Economy conference listing the corporate sponsors, representing some of the corporate interests shaping Outer Space discourses

Disimagination: Enclosing the Future

Although frontiers can be considered a material reality, the ideological undercurrents that drive engagements with these areas inevitably inform the socio-political-material relationships that take shape (Redclift, 2006). This is also true of Outer Space, which has had various ideologies projected upon it (Valentine, 2012) and been imbued with moral and philosophical deliberations (Arendt, 1958), resulting in a domain that is ‘fully laden with cosmic dreaming, theological wonderings, and science fiction fabulations’ (Kearnes and van Dooren, 2017; p.179). Thus, the discourses adopted by NSE actors do not simply operate to enclose the physical domain of Outer Space through their lobbying and influencing of policy and public opinion. They simultaneously seek to curtail and enclose imaginative spaces and the (counter)narratives therein through the process of disimagination.

The process of disimagination selectively edits the historical narrative, removing certain voices, modes of resistance, and alternative accounts, distorting the ability to imagine futures outside of the EuroAmerican neoliberal present [6] (Didi-Huberman, 2008: Giroux, 2014). It is through the processes of disimagination that the condition of capitalist realism is enabled – a state of affairs wherein it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism (Fisher, 2009 [7]). Consequently, the futures curated, maintained, and promoted by NSE actors are structured through a white-ethnocentric rendition of history. The resultant imaginaries and narratives implicitly and explicitly draw upon familiar tropes of white settler colonialism, such as enclosure, working land to produce ‘value’, and the displacing of indigenous/non-Western onto-epistemological frameworks, if not the people themselves [8] (Bhabha and Comaroff, 2002: Hesse, 2002: Loomba et al., 2005: Parry, 2002: Wilkes and Hird, 2019: Wood, 2017: Young, 2001). Through imbibing popular discourses of Outer Space futurity with this history, similar arguments to past enclosures are made. Specifically, that ‘production’ and the ability to ‘work’ a resource operates as the basis through which ownership may be exerted [9]; extractive industries not taking anything away but adding something, and issues coming to centre upon not occupancy or fruitful use but relative value (Wood, 2017). 


Figure 2: "K’òmoks Imperial Stormtrooper" by Andy Everson (as published on 'Double Exposure', available here

Despite the seeming dominance of the NSE discourses of Outer Space futurity in the popular imaginary and the apparent effectiveness of the disimagination process vis-à-vis these futures, they are not unchallenged. Instead, the hegemonic imaginary of EuroAmerican futurism is disrupted and challenged via the provocations and (re)conceptualisations offered through Ethnofuturist writings and artwork [10]. If we understand Ethnofuturism at its most basic – an imaginative process that engages the Ethno- (referring to the archaic, indigenous, or cultural histories of peoples) and -futurism (deemed as the cosmopolitan, urban, and technological) (Hennoste, 2012) – and accept that texts are not neutral but socio-political artifacts (Aitken, 2005: Driver, 2005: Kitchin and Kneale, 2001: Kneale and Kitchin, 2002: Fairclough, 1992: 2001), then we can look upon Ethnofuturist works that draw upon non-Western histories and cultural specificities as sites wherein – and whereby – the hegemony of the EuroAmerican onto-epistemological framework is agitated, contested, and refuted [11]. The ability of Ethnofuturist work to disrupt the normative discourses of Outer Space is described by Nalo Hopkinson in their introduction to the short story collection So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasty. Hopkinson succinctly relays that:

“Arguably, one of the most familiar memes of science fiction is that of going to foreign countries and colonizing the natives, and as I’ve said elsewhere, for many of us, that’s not a thrilling adventure story, it’s non-fiction, and we are on the wrong side of the strange-looking ship that appears out of nowhere” (2011; p.7).

In creating artwork that draws upon histories and experiences other than those embedded within the ethnocentric discourses of NSE imaginaries, Ethnofuturism operates as a powerful space wherein ‘traditional’ conceptions of extraterrestrial extractivism can be critiqued, frustrated, and reimagined (Quan, 2017). These challenges are presented through multiple media, including art (e.g. Curtis et al., 2018: Tate, 2020), literature (e.g. Hopkinson and Mehan, 2011), music (e.g. Alien Weaponry, Indigenous Futurisms Mixtape (RPMfm, 2014), Mbongwana Star, Patea Maori Club), film (see The Walker (2020) for a list of indigenous short films and Clark (2015)), and much more. Through challenging the normative discourse of Outer Space futurity – where the familiar tropes of history and enclosure are meted out once more – Ethnofuturism offers us a means of thinking outside of this framework, asking and imagining what other futures may be possible and how these may be thought and done differently. Ethnofuturism, therefore, is a fertile area by and through which we may attempt to decolonise the future – both conceptually and in practice. It provides a space wherein Eurocentric futurity – informed through a ‘Grand Historical Narrative’ that (re)creates and perpetuates a totalising concept of ‘humanity’ – is disrupted and problematised, asking whose future is being spoken of and for.

[1] DSI (now owned by Bradford Space), Planetary Resources (now owned by ConsenSys), AMC, Aten Engineering, Deltion Innovations Ltd, Kleos Space, Neora, Offworld, Planetoids Mine Company, Spacefab.us, Space Resources Australia, TransAstra. All of these companies have been set up to pursue asteroid mining or are developing technologies to be involved in the industry.
[2] This is primarily spoken about in relation to In-Situ Resource Utilisation (ISRU). The intent behind these operations is to vastly reduce space mission costs through mining and extracting relevant materials in Outer Space rather than launching all of the necessary materials off-planet.
[3] Such as the US SPACE Act 2015, American Space Commerce Free Enterprise Act 2018, the Executive Order on Encouraging International Support for the Recovery and Use of Space Resources 2020, UK Space Industry Act 2018, and Luxembourg’s  Law on the Exploration and Use of Space Resources, to name a few.
[4] A term that has already been problematised to certain degrees through work on the Anthropocene (Chakrabarty, 2015: Vergès, 2017: Yusoff, 2019).
[5] Such as legislation and draft legislation in the USA, UK, Luxemburg, India, China, and Russia, to name a few.
[6] Through the term ‘EuroAmerican neoliberal present’ I am referring to an ordering and set of conditions that hooks (2000) describes as ‘White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy’.
[7] Whilst this quote has been attributed to several theorists over time – including Frederic Jameson and Slavoj Žižek to name but two – I reference Fisher here for his engagement with the wider concerns and processes of capitalist realism.
[8] However, although we can only discuss the continued exclusion of non-Western/indigenous onto-epistemological frameworks when discussing asteroids themselves, terrestrial implications surrounding land rights, ancestral lands, and sacred sites are not absent from these debates. Outer Space operations – both present and future – rely on large infrastructures and some of these projects have already caused disputes with indigenous peoples.
[9] This premise finds explicit articulation in the US SPACE Act 2015.
[10] Here I take ‘artwork’ to mean not just the production of images, but all of the ‘arts’ – writing, imagery, sculpture, music, and so on.
[11] This process should not be confused with that of disimagination as it operates to achieve different ends and means. Rather than seeking to silence another group’s history or telling of events, Ethnofuturism draws upon these different histories to challenge and disrupt the seemingly de facto futures often presented to us. Rather than a process that seeks the active removal or silencing of particular histories, Ethnofuturism is perhaps best thought of as an exercise of re-remembering and this is where its disruptive potential lies.


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