Accepted Paper:

Earthly epistemologies, alien ontologies and life by other means  


Valentina Marcheselli (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how astrobiologists challenge and redefine the concept of ‘life’ when bringing it into play in relation to extraterrestrial contexts, which are imagined and experienced through analogue-sites on Earth.

Paper long abstract:

This paper looks at how scientists from a multitude of different disciplines come together to study "life beyond Earth". By drawing on insights from the ethnographic study of astrobiologists' laboratory and fieldwork activities, I explore the disciplinary practices, the scientific narratives and the experimental designs by means of which scientists hunt for life, and in which definitions of life are embedded.

My fieldwork has investigated how, for the astrobiologists, going out in the field and imagining extraterrestrial scenarios by means of analogue-sites on Earth has become a necessary condition for expanding traditional definitions of life and figuring out what life as we don't know it might look like.

In looking at how people, objects and practices move between different spaces of knowledge production - the field and the laboratory - I consider how astrobiologists play with Earth-bound epistemologies and alien ontologies of life, blurring the boundaries of traditional understandings of life and opening up the possibility of accounting, one day, for what is still unknown.

Panel T109
Emerging forms of "life" in STS