Atmosphere: Context, detachment, and the view from above Earth

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Since the 1950s, views of Earth from above have been critiqued for provoking detachment from and decontextualization of human, terrestrial concerns. These critiques thus establish Earth's enveloping atmosphere as the ultimate context for meaningful and grounded accounts of humanness, and outer space as a site for abstract, generalizable knowledge. But in outer space, the explanatory work done by “context” is put in question, because spacefaring humans must attend to basic and constantly shifting conditions for life that lie beyond “context” on Earth, including breathing. Attention to humans in real and speculative space environments reveals context as a naturalizing device that establishes universal nature/culture distinctions through recourse to grounding terrestrial ontologies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)511-524
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican Ethnologist
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 by the American Anthropological Association


  • comparison
  • exploration
  • horizontality
  • objectivity
  • outer space
  • relativism
  • verticality


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