Gravity fixes: Habituating to the human on Mars and Island Three

David Valentine


What shifts might emerge in theorizations of and debates over “the human”—as a historically specific entity or as nominating a general species difference—if Earth and its variable conditions no longer form the habitual grounds for these arguments? To answer this question, I examine two sites proposed by outer space settlement advocates: the surface of Mars, and the interior of a massive, rotating cylindrical space settlement called Island Three. I argue that these places unsettle habitual critical approaches to the human in outer space by posing radically different conditions through which to make accounts of the specific and the general, including that of humanness. Using gravity as both metaphor for significance and a physical quality and quantity that potentiates worlds and experience, I examine how a variety of problematics about humans and their histories are fixed—from Earth—in the imaginations of both settlement advocates and their critics, and explore problems for both critical theory and space settlement advocacy in thinking “the human” through nonterrestrial sites. I argue that thinking humanness from elsewhere in the cosmos offers new anthropological insights about questions of difference and relation, specificity and universality, Indigeneity and settlement, ontology and epistemology, and habits of embodiment on Earth.


epistemology, ontology, settler colonialism, Indigeneity, chronotope, universals, relationality

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau7.3.012