SC17: Michael Oman-Reagan

Space Anthropologist

Michael is working on a PhD examining space science and exploration to understand how science, science fiction, and other forms of cultural background each play a role in the way scientists plan for space exploration. In this unique historical moment as space settlement is on the horizon, he asks: what sources do space scientists draw from as they imagine possible futures for humans in space and what opportunities do these imaginaries present for an emerging anthropology of space? 

As humans move into space, we bring culture with us; but which ideas, practices, and traditions will we bring? What will we find, create, and encounter in space and how can we do a speculative anthropology of this potential alterity? To investigate these and other questions, Michael is conducting ethnographic studies with international communities of space scientists as they prepare for and conduct various modes of space exploration. Through these studies he is developing and testing both practical, analytical, and theory-based tools for conducting social scientific research among communities engaged in space science, exploration, and settlement and for imagining possible futures in space, both human and non-human. 

  • Vanier Scholar (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada)
  • Department of Anthropology, Memorial University, St. John's, NL A1C 5S7, Canada
  • Affiliated Researcher, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8P 5C2, Canada

Read more about Michael's research interests here...

Interstellar Anthropology and Cultural Infrastructures for a Spacefaring Species

As humanity moves into space, cultural difference and other forms of diversity will be among our most precious tools. In addition to rockets, ships, architecture, food, energy, habitats, spacesuits, and other technologies, humanity will need the kinds of cultural infrastructures that made our adaptation and survival possible here on Earth, namely differences among humans, and the imaginative possibilities produced by that diversity. Humanity’s varied languages, traditions, religions, stories, philosophies, sciences, rituals, and practices can work like a space-settlement Rosetta Stone, unlocking solutions to the challenges of possible futures here on Earth and in space. Diverse perspectives and approaches will ensure survival, adaptation, and our future as a multi-planetary and, eventually, interstellar species. Over the last century, the study of this diversity on Earth has often been the focus of the discipline of anthropology. Today, anthropologists of space continue this by studying humanity’s transformation from mostly Earth-bound to increasingly space-engaged societies.

This paper reflects on the role of diversity, difference, and imagination in my practice of interstellar anthropology – a method of looking beyond today’s solar system exploration and settlement toward the furthest spatial, temporal, cultural, social, and technological limits of human and non-human possibility in space. Just as astrobiology relies on informed speculation to study the nature of life in the universe, I use this interdisciplinary social scientific practice to think about our future as a spacefaring species. By combining techniques from contemporary anthropological theory, speculative fiction, ethnography, and science studies, interstellar anthropology examines the ways imaginative, social, institutional, and cultural contexts and influences are shaping interstellar exploration, and the cultural infrastructures we bring into space and will build in the future.


This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.