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Alternative Worlds

Blue-Sky Thinking since 1900


Edited By Ricarda Vidal and Ingo Cornils

In an attempt to counteract the doom and gloom of the economic crisis and the politicians’ overused dictum that ‘there is no alternative’, this interdisciplinary collection presents a number of alternative worlds that were conceived over the course of the last century. While change at the macro level was the focus of most of the ideological struggles of the twentieth century, the real impetus for change came from the blue-sky thinking of scientists, engineers, architects, sociologists, planners and writers, all of whom imagined alternatives to the status quo.
Following a roughly chronological order from the turn of the nineteenth century to the present, this book explores the dreams, plans and hopes as well as the nightmares and fears that are an integral part of alternative thinking in the Western hemisphere. The alternative worlds at the centre of the individual essays can each be seen as crucial to the history of the past one hundred years. While these alternative worlds reflect their particular cultural context, they also inform historical developments in a wider sense and continue to resonate in the present.
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11 Alternative Worlds in the Cosmos


Worlds in Outer Space

To understand alternative worlds, including alternative worlds in space, we must locate them in their social, political and ideological contexts. This chapter asks a number of linked questions: How do these alternative worlds in outer space relate to the social world back on Earth? To what extent are alternative worlds a response to the society in which they are located? How do the speculations of space fiction, and the art used to illustrate such fiction, relate to the economic and political worlds of the space industry? To what extent might alternatives in space influence that society? Do alternative worlds change, or simply reproduce, power-relations and inequalities?

These are large and complex questions. This chapter starts answering them by adopting a conceptual framework advanced by the French philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre. His main book, The Production of Space (1991), concerns urbanism and the terrestrial expansion of space. This chapter extends Lefebvre’s concepts to include the real and imagined humanisation of outer space.

In what sense is space, including outer space, ‘produced’? Rob Shields, a leading translator and commentator on Lefebvre, points out that ‘production de l’espace’ translated into English refers not to the production of space itself but to ‘the spatialisation of the social order’.1 Lefebvre outlines ← 255 | 256 → the multiple ways in which the social order is being extended across the globe but his work can be readily extended fairly easily to include the cosmos.

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