The invention of air space, outer space, and cyberspace

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter offers a genealogy of three related discourses and programs about achieving, enacting, and managing communicative space: air space, outer space, and cyberspace. I first consider how something called "outer space" (a space of freedoms, an object of government and policy, and a space "settled," understood, and organized through a new regime of technologies fit for global communication) developed out of a pre-World War II conception of air space (having to do with both radio and flyover space, and hence a conception of space supporting and problematizing national sovereignty). I then suggest ways that these two historical conceptions of space and regimes of communicative space (air-space before World War II, and outer space during the Cold War) became a framework for imagining, requiring, and inventing something called "cyberspace." In this chapter, I emphasize the ongoing problematization and regulation of extraterrestrial outer spaces since the late nineteenth century in order to suggest a historical connection between the reinvention of outer space and political modernization (the reinvention of liberal government). In this sense, I offer a way of thinking about the relation between the invention of communication, the invention of space (that solves or manages problems of communication), and the ongoing experiments aimed at "advancing" and reinventing liberal government as a system invoking the virtue of communication as the most peaceful and civil way to exercise freedom and achieve security. While I focus on how this reinvention of communication, space, and government occurred in the West (and particularly from the United States), I also underscore how these ongoing programs of invention were rationalized as solving problems of global governance and of waging global peace through extraterrestrial communication. Furthermore, while I am interested in the practice and mentalities of invention, I also emphasize the experimentalism, failures, and insecurities surrounding the solutions for managing space, and in this way underscore the changing regimes of truth in governing and securing a "free world" and open skies, through communication technology. This chapter makes a number of contributions to the discussion of satellite technologies of communication. First, it offers a history of the present, considering how the current ("neoliberal") governmental rationale about securing cyberspace has emerged out of a modern preoccupation with securing, regulating, and pacifying air space and outer space. Second, it addresses how understanding satellite technology depends on recognizing the historical and geographic relationship between communication and transportation technologies. Third, it rebuts technological determinist accounts of contemporary communication technology by emphasizing instead how the invention of communicative space has been predicated on the changing rationalities of liberal government-particularly from the United States. And fourth, it offers a theoretical and methodological alternative to accounts of modernity and globalization that see space as an epiphenomenon of communication networks, economies, and political government, and their modernity or modernization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDown to Earth
Subtitle of host publicationSatellite Technologies, Industries, and Cultures
PublisherRutgers University Press
Number of pages23
ISBN (Print)9780813552736
StatePublished - 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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