Essay Feedback Page
page contains your responses to the Inaugural Essay (mostly from a time frame in which they two parts of the essay were first posted). Both
emails and snail-mail versions are encouraged. Your positive
responses are, of course, encouraged, but so are your criticisms. Constructive
negative reactions will be displayed here as they can be helpful in
moving this subfield of sociology forward. Please indicate
whether you would like to include your name and affiliation, or prefer
to respond anonymously.
areas of focus for Part One include:
working definition of astrosociology (including
conceptualization of societies split into the astrosocial sector
the model of astrosociological
response presented in Figure One;
the five Central Themes of Astrosociology;
the general need for astrosociology as a new subfield of sociology.
hope is that your reactions will stimulate new ideas, and thereby
for astrosociology. The
worst response would be no response. So,
please, contribute to this effort so that astrosociology can grow into
a mainstream subfield of sociology!
posting of Part Two:
posting of Part One:
was from 2004...
Contents (response to Part One of Inaugural Essay)
(Sociology doctoral student at Capella University)
I have had time
to read Part One of your Inaugural Essay and you have captured
the very essence of
the way I think and feel with regard to sociology and space phenomenon.
I think your concept of "Astrosociology" is right on
target and I hope to not only build upon your conceptualizations
(with permission), but to support the positive progress of Astrosociology
toward the goal of its development as a subfield of sociology.
I will begin to read Part Two shortly and I anticipate more of
the insight and scholarship evident in your Part One.
I can't begin to tell you how excited I am to find your website
and to make contact with someone who has the same dream with regard
to sociology and space. It is as if you had taken the rationale
for my book proposal and expounded upon my simple attempts to articulate
my thoughts and hypotheses.
At first glance, your definition(s), themes and sociological concepts
are impressive and an excellent approach to the study and teaching
of sociology as it relates to space phenomenon. The multidimensional
approach, as you so artfully articulate, is paramount if Astrosociology
is to be taken as a serious (social) scientific discipline worthy
of the distinction as a subfield of sociology. I agree that within
the driving force of sociological imagination, the major sociological
perspectives of structural functionalism, social conflict theory,
and symbolic interactionism (and maybe others) must be the bedrock
of academic, scientific and sociological inquiry within the constructs
Finally, I must say that your responses to those critical of the
Astrosociological effort are truly articulate, academic, educational
and the words of a gentleman and a scholar.
"Tomorrow a stranger
will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought
and felt all the time." ----Ralph
You did just that with your vision for Astrosociology.
David H. Lempert
(Associate Professor; George Washington
Astrosociology: Studying the Fascinating
as Well as the Mundane
DL = Dr. David Lempert
JP = Jim Pass
All of the social sciences definitely need to start looking at space
phenomena. So, congratulations for starting this in sociology. That
being said, I found your introductory essay and web site a disappointment.
Frankly, the boundary setting and jargon were more bureaucratic than
anything NASA would write.
what I can tell, the focus of your work seems to be on the industries
and systems that are now involved in space. On the
one hand, you open up the door to a field of study that is the future
of SEVERAL social science disciplines for what will likely be centuries,
and then you close the door to focus on the current bureaucratic-industrial
setting. It would be much better to start by focusing on the
RESEARCH QUESTIONS and the goals and values of those question. Once
you have a list of intellectual questions, then you can see where
they fit. But, instead, you seem to be starting
out as a bureaucratic trying to define turf, which is a recipe or
failure. Why not start with
the larger questions:
How will humans live in the future? That has several areas of
concern. If we have to change our bodies, our concepts of time, our
relation to nature and the planet, we have to have a different concept
of human. If we re-engineer human bodies and systems, we also re-engineer
the building blocks of society. Will be create several kinds of new
human species? Will we fit them to different planets? To different
space travel options? This is a theme for sociology, for anthropology,
and for psychology.
-- What human and non-human systems will we trust to maintain human
order in the future?
-- What systems will work to set the agenda and define conditions
of life, what it means to be human, and so on?
Your focus seems to be on the third question, which is a tactical
question and not the strategic one. I would suggest that you use
your roundtable just to brainstorm research questions and NOT to
get involved in the bureaucratic politics of turf battles. Otherwise
you will kill off the discipline before it even gets off the ground.
Lempert, Ph.D. (social anthropology),
(JP) Dear David,
you for your comments. As I propose it, astrosociology does
on many of the mundane elements of contemporary society
related to humans in space. Bureaucratic structures, exemplified
by NASA, must be understood because they control access to space;
they are contemporary social structures that deserve study. My approach
itself is not “bureaucratic.” Your disappointment may
be due, in part, to the fact that humanity has not yet reached very
far into space, or made it a central aspect of everyday social life.
However, that is where humanity finds itself. We must
understand the present to make informed predictions about the future.
disagree with you in terms of my overall approach and motivation. The only “turf” that I attempt to define is a sociological
turf. Sociology is the “missing” social science in the
study of space issues. I possess no agenda other than to study contemporary
astrosocial phenomena and the overall social patterns as they exist,
as well as those that may lead us to a spacefaring future. This
is a sociological approach, and not a futurist one, though many of
research questions you mention fall easily under the purview of astrosociology.
never expected that all would accept my comments as they currently
keep in mind, however, that this is just the beginning.
Astrosociology will take shape, perhaps in a very different direction,
as others contribute. At the meeting, I will keep an open mind throughout
my time there… The last thing I want is to kill this
new subfield before it gets off the ground!
you again for your valued input. Would you like me to post
your comments on my feedback page? Or, would like to contribute something
different? Please let me know.
(DL) Dear Jim,
are welcome to post my comments on your feedback page. We do share
I'm not questioning your motives or objectives
at all. I'm just suggesting that the approach can be more effective
by starting with the issues, themselves, and the research questions,
and not worrying so much about where it "fits" and how
it is recognized. Maybe you'll want to start a whole new discipline
or cross disciplines if that is where research goes.
want to thank Dr. Lempert for his participation in the early construction
of astrosociology. I decided to first place (perhaps temporary) parameters
on the scope of astrosociology in order to (1) attract interested
parties to something tangible, (2) make obvious that sociology fails
to focus on astrosociological issues and therefore such a focus is
long overdue, and (3) actually demonstrate that the scope of the
proposed subfield is quite large. I anticipated that research questions,
such as those proposed by Dr. Lempert, would soon follow. For
these reasons, at least, astrosociology is relevant in examining
facet of social life in both centuries exhibiting a human presence
in space (not to mention astrosocial phenomena before spaceflight
Lempert's final reaction]:
I like it! Hope it brings others into the discussion.
Richard A. Hilbert
Department of Sociology and Anthropology;
Critical of Establishing Astrosociology
is a summary of extended correspondence with Jim Pass which he
asked me to write for
Pass is calling for discussion among sociologists interested
outer space and space-related matters. A few responses on his web
suggest interesting topics and questions that would be fun to talk
an informal or researchable way. I see no problem with that and
Professor Pass might easily have called for this discussion in
two or three sentence announcement. Instead he proposes a "new
sociology, he names it "astrosociology", and he writes
an "inaugural essay" about it. In this aggrandizement lies the problem. Professor
Pass rightly compares astrosociology with the numerous "sociology
of" fields proliferating all over the place, and he offers
proliferations as justification for his proposal even as he refrains
calling his area a "sociology of space (etc.)" On that
please note: Virtually every "sociology of" area has
from existing literature among a community of like-minded scholars,
from an inaugural essay decrying the lack of attention to the sub-area.
Thus Professor Pass is putting the cart before the horse: There
citations to any existing literature (although he might well have
literature together)--instead it appears that the only astrosociological
literature is the essay proposing and justifying astrosociology
Professor Pass sees virtue in the proposal in the mere fact that
such field exists--he thinks that it "should" exist,
as though something
major has been neglected or written out by sociologists. Is there
against a sociology of (space, etc.)? Demonstrating such a bias
to include showing how space-related research is systematically
the discipline just because of its substantive area. Would quantitative
studies, peer approved for technique, be rejected by a journal
because it documents a declining level of scientific competence
Would Conversation Analysts reject a paper simply because it included
transcribed tapes of astronaut chatter on the space station? I
seriously; if anything, there would be a bias toward publishing
ethnography by a sociologist actually on the space shuttle no matter
poorly the ethnography was conducted.
suspect that one reason there is so little sociology of (space,
the same reason there are so few studies of Presidential cabinet
Lack of access.
Professor Pass sees a bias, so I have to ask: Why on earth are
sociologists an exception to the rest of society whose members
fascinated about everything to do with space and space travel? Biases
within sociology are generally directed against moves that threaten
legitimacy of one sociological school or another. Sometimes it
has to do
with funding. But who in the wide wide world of sociology is threatened
revealing the self-aggrandizement of this essay is the way in
proposes something new as though it already exists, albeit as an
entity. References to "this new subfield" deflect attention
creator as though he were merely calling readers' attention to
even the definition of "astrosociology" as studies of
astrosociological phenomena" is designed to give the impression
without the proposal there would still "be" something,
missing. This problem is only worsened by the anticipation that
for "others" in the future to specify and delimit exactly
astrosociological phenomena, as opposed to "non-astrosociological" phenomena,
are. (Still worse, Professor Pass asks others to first make the
distinction between the two categories and then to proceed to show
distinction isn't really a real distinction, as in how astrosociological
and non-astrosociological phenomena inter-penetrate or feed back
other. But I won't go into that.)
the "sociology of" subfields
generally draw upon institutional
distinctions already taken for granted in the society (e.g. education
versus medicine) and aren't "proposed" as new categories
or "defined" in
special ways; they especially do not promote research defining
themselves (e.g. sociological phenomena of an "educational" versus"
non-educational" sort). Similarly, the categories "astro-sociological" versus "non-astrosociological" will
display no more clarity than they already
have in the society--which isn't much, since so far nobody but
Pass is even trying to make the distinction. Thus to whatever
extent a new
group of sociologists invent and prescribe a topical domain for
and study on the basis of the recommendations in this inaugural
they see as their "findings" will be their own reflections.
Richard A. Hilbert
Professor of Sociology;
University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Blog Commentary: more on astrosociology
(post sponsored by Tang)
out this weblog entry critical of astrosociology:
Entry for 06/30/2004
Dr. Albert A. Harrison
(Professor of Psychology;
University of California,
to Consider in Establishing a New Subfield...
(all other comments by Dr. Harrison)
has been a remarkable confluence of obligations and opportunities
and the "light at the end of the tunnel" seems
to recede indefinitely, but here are a few quick thoughts on the
inaugural essay and "astrosociology" in general.
The essay itself is well organized and well written, but so far,
we have seen only the first part.
I strongly favor the idea of astrosociology and trying to drum
in the sociological community. Occasionally,
as in the case of Magorah Maruyama and in case of Diane Vaughan's
book, I run into something by a sociologist, but there is much
more done by political scientists, many of whom have sociological
overtones. I especially recommend your looking at Howard McCurdy's
work; he has done excellent essays on NASA as an organization and
NASA's control of the public's view of space. Although his organizational
analyses are excellent, my favorite is his book "SPACE AND
THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION. In addition, there is some great work
on space interest groups by Michael A. G. Michaud (he never completed
his Ph.D. but he is excellent) as well as useful overviews of astronomy,
astrobiology/SETI, and space exploration. One of his findings is
that space groups fractionate and dissolve. To my knowledge I am
one of the few psychologists (my background is in social psychology
and at one time I actually passed PhD level tests in sociology)
whose work has a sociological flavor. In both AFTER CONTACT and
SPACEFARING, I treat organizational-level issues and explore
the relationship of SETI and space exploration, respectively, to
at large. There are however some popular writers who discuss sociological
phenomena (whether they know it or not) including Greg Klerkx.
whereas it is fine and dandy to talk in terms of sectors and
among sectors I myself see us at a particular
point in evolution where we are shifting our gaze from the Earth
to the stars. That is, as a result of a confluence of many factors
(rapid advancements in astronomy, space exploration, ideas about
cosmic evolution, concerns about a one planet species etc.), more
and more people are thinking about "cosmic" issues. Stated
another way, I see some of the changes as indeed "macro" and
proceeding at the societal level. I guess to make a very practical
point you might want to include more on how we are involved in
social change that included reassessing our position in the universe.
(JP) Figure One in the Essay touches exactly on this point. It is
model that artificially separates a particular
society into the astrosocial and non-astrosocial sectors. The activities
in each of the sectors affect the other, and these interactions
contribute to social change. This model is meant, in part, to serve
as a gauge that measures how important space-related activities
are to cultural and social change in a society. The stronger the
astrosocial sector, the closer toward a spacefaring nation the
society. This model predicts that a spacefaring society is one
possible successor to a post-industrial society. Then there is
the concept of a "spacefaring species." These ideas are
not yet well played out due to the fact that I have only completed
Part One of the Essay. I am glad to see, however, that it has provoked
important responses from such a well-respected social scientist.
Third, it is not really clear to me if you are writing specifically
about space exploration or if you include astrobiology/SETI.
The paper gets into astronomy and space travel but does not seem
to make a strong statement about including the search for life
beyond Earth. This needs to be made explicit. Remember, you are
a sociologist, so you are less interested in the fate of the
search than interest in the search, how it is carried out, and
how various constituencies regard it. Once you get into astrobiology./SETI
you will need a position on UFOs. Again, we are behavioral/social
scientists, and it is appropriate that we deal with people's
belief systems. However, as you know, anything smacking
of UFOs can also portend professional disaster. There needs to
upfront, strong statement in the essay on exactly which astrosociological
phenomena are included and which are not.
as I have proposed it, studies all astrosocial phenomena; that
is, all social phenomena in which humans are related
in some way with outer space. The concept of UFOs, whether
reflecting reality or not, is embedded into the cultures of human
These ideas have social significance, not for their possible
existence, but for their real effects on a particular society.
other things, as you suggest, astrosociology studies (1) how
sciences are carried out (organizational analysis), (2) their
impact on society, (3) society's impact on the space sciences,
the social and cultural change attributable at least in part
phenomena. So, astrosociology involves, in part, the study
of the influences of space exploration and the space sciences
SETI). Any social behavior related to outer space
in any way falls under the purview of astrosociology.
one resource which I might have mentioned before is Harrison,
Billingham et al. on the involvement of social scientists in SETI.
Whether or not this is useful for the inaugural essay, it is important
for you to read. It deals with the practical problems of getting
high-level professionals involved in research that some might see
as fringe or flaky.
best was to get this is to contact the Foundation for the Future
copy of Allen Tough's edited book, "When SETI
Succeeds." I probably have a somewhat imperfect, but
basically correct version, on my computer which I can send to you
as an e-attachment
assuming your computer can take a relatively large word document.
some people in sociology will see no need for this. They will
that there is no need to separate this out as a specific
field. In other words, current sociology of organizations covers
Vaughan's work, sociology of social movements covers space enthusiasts,
and UFO groups can be understood in terms of deviance and cults,
and so forth. That is, they will argue that whereas you are drawing
attention to an interesting (and in my opinion important) topical
area (or set of topical areas) there is nothing really "new" here.
The essential thing, though, is that you are trying to involve
sociologists in areas that are important right now and will become
more important in the future.
(JP) You bring up an excellent point. I would argue that any subfield
of sociology is an application of mainstream sociological analysis
to a more specific subject matter. For example, the same can be
said about deviance or sociology of religion. I think that the
need for astrosociology is to bring together disparate sociologists
and other social scientists into a single astrosociological community. This will allow for greater cooperation and collaboration, and
thus the construction of a single, more comprehensive astrosociological
literature. Those who prefer to study organizations as their subject
matter, and happen to study an organization in the astrosocial
sector, can continue to emphasize organizations, but they would
have a much richer literature to draw upon if astrosociology existed
as an accepted subfield. The study of astrosocial organizations
is one of the five themes of astrosociology as presented in the
a good way to get this off the ground might be to chair a panel
professional meeting. (I am not sure how the ASA does
this sort of thing; but if it were psychology I might start with
a regional meeting, such as the Western Psychological Association)
which focuses on the intersection of sociology and space exploration,
preferably very broadly defined to include astrobiology/SETI. The
bias would be towards topics that relatively safe, for example,
NASA as an organization, space advocacy groups as a social movement,
living in isolation and confinement of space, and so on. Later
on you could "free things up."
sense is that your own reading on the topic has only recently
that your efforts will become increasingly effective
as you expand the literature based on which you draw. Unfortunately,
at this point (after a quarter century in the field) the major
result I get from reading one book is that I learn about two more
books that I should read! In the meantime, you will have to give
a lot of thought to "what's in" and "what's out" as
you try to achieve a balance between sharpening a fresh new research
area and remaining respectable.
(JP) When I first began
this project in March of 2003, I was familiar with some of the
literature, but not all
of it, as you suggest. One of the problems
I ran into was separating references that involve astrosociological
issues from those that do not (even
though they may discuss space-related topics). Two examples
are the differentiation between journalism and astrosociology
between simple space advocacy and astrosociology. In this
area, the astrosociological community would be invaluable in
to shape a true "astrosociological literature." My
approach to remaining respectable is to focus upon the social
science materials as much as possible. This will be
difficult at this early stage, and much of the other materials
do, in fact, possess helpful ideas and arguments.
So far, the field seems to be dominated by anthropology, political
scientists, and political scientists. It would be great
to see more sociologists join the act! Again, as far as
the essay is concerned, it needs to be more upfront on the content
I hope you find these comments of use.
Albert A. Harrison
Professor of Psychology
want to thank Dr. Harrison for his supportive and constructive
comments. Such contributions are vital to the establishment of
Dr. John Oliver
the night sky at http://concam.net/rh/)
a New Subfield…
Dr. John Oliver
JP = Jim Pass
(JO) Astrosociology would be the sociology of stars. Perhaps
you mean socio-astronomy.
you for your comments. While there is no perfect terminology
to cover what I intend for the scope of "astrosociology," the
sociological study of the stars or the heavens seems like the
best term. My argument is that while the literal meaning
is not the main point, it does imply a larger purview of coverage. I
considered socioastronomy, but my proposed sociological approach
covers much more than the impact of astronomy, or any one space-related
science. The term I selected purposely connotes a general,
inclusive coverage of all "astrosocial" influences
on society. I believe my term is apt for its intended purpose
although I welcome your further comments in this regard.
is similar to astroarchaeology and archaeoastronomy:
- archaeoastronomy: astronomical alignments and elements found in archaeology;
astroarchaeology: a study of the ruins of long dead stars;
socioastronomy: astronomical aspects of sociology;
astrosociology: sociology of stars.
an astronomer and a sociologist, I guess we'll have to agree
to disagree about this issue. I selected the term astrosociology
largely because it emphasizes that it is a new sociological sub-discipline. It
is similar to the term astrobiology which is defined as “the
study of the origin, distribution and destiny of life in the
universe,” according to NASA. “Biology of stars” is
a literal interpretation, but it is not accurate literally.
contrast, the term socioastronomy emphasizes astronomy, but astronomy
is not the main analytic science involved. This subfield
does not attempt to study the astronomical aspects of sociology
or the sociological aspects of astronomy (only). Astrosociology
is based on sociological inquiry. Additionally, socio-astronomy
is already established to study the sociology of astronomical
publications (see, for example, http://cdsweb.u-strasbg.fr/~heck/osabib.htm).
you again for your comments. Academic discourse is always
refreshing even when there is disagreement, or perhaps even more
so because of it. You have caused me to rethink my position about
using astrosociology as my descriptive term for this new sociological
subfield. However, I am even more convinced that this is
the best term to describe a new subfield that takes a sociological
perspective in examining the relationship between the influence
of phenomena associated with the universe and the various societies
on the planet Earth.
makes sense ... you have convinced me.
I thank Dr. Oliver for challenging me to reevaluate my decision
to use “astrosociology” as the name of this new subfield – JP].
(Professor of Sociology;
City University of
Favorable Toward Establishing Astrosociology
Jim -- I have read your essay and visited Astrosociology's
very sophisticated web site, both with great interest. Before knowing how to advise
you regarding the organization of a section in ASA devoted to research
in this subject, I'd love to read some more concrete examples of what people
consider Astrosociology. Stephen Weinberg's wonderful essay in the
current March 22) New York Review of Books would qualify in my understanding
of the term. It is entitled, "The Wrong Stuff" and is an
argument against manned space flight. I find it a very persuasive
essay. Another thinker is this area, Loren Eisely, asked us to consider
the possibility that instead of there being infinite opportunities for
life as we know it out in space, what we have here on earth may be unique
in the universe. If that were to be the case, Eisely asks,
what are the implications, and how would such a fact raise the stakes
of our relationship
to the environment of this planet?
think an astrosociologist of a somewhat sociobiological bent
might argue that homo sapiens are evolving in such a way that
our spread out into the universe and beyond is inevitable. Astrosociology
as a field seems to represent a fascination for extension of
the human species beyond our planet. Personally, if pressed,
I would tend to group myself among the critical astrosociologists. Our
position would argue that before we advocate the extension of
our species elsewhere in the universe, we first determine if
we represent a parasitic disease form in our own biosphere.
At present most of the evidence would suggest that we are a harmful planetary
bloom whose chances for early extinction are quite high. Despite the
hubris of our ambitions at greening Mars and other distant orbs, about which
we know almost nothing except that it would be extremely difficult and uncomfortable
to live there, we humans are in the process of destroying the very basis of
our own quite lovely lives. At the cosmic level, we are quickly destroying
an almost infinitely thin layer of possibility, the only known particle of
green life in the vast universe.
I commend you, pioneer of astrosociology, for stimulating this
discussion. Were I to become an astrosociologist, I would
be concerned with seeing ourselves as astronauts who are already
in a space capsule and must figure out, indeed, who have the
destiny to figure out (or to fail to do so) how we are to flourish
as a species and yet not so foul our nest that our brief but
spectacular journey through the stars comes to naught.
(Master of Science
University of Turku,
Commentary Favorable Toward Establishing Astrosociology
I would like to congratulate Dr. Jim Pass for taking the pioneering
steps to systematize astrosociology
as a discipline of sociology. To be honest, this will be a long journey
that will have to pave the way through walls of prejudice; but at
the same time, it will incite imagination and scientific enthusiasm.
Along the way, many interesting sociological and other types of problems
will arise and will be solved. The Inaugural Essay is
a great start on this path.
great deal must be done before astrosociology will reach a steady
a discipline of sociology. Many of our fellow sociologists
will ask tricky questions that must be answered in a satisfactory
manner. For example, what does astrosociology as a discipline have
to offer to sociology? Astrosociologists must be able to express
and formulate the justifications for the very existence of the discipline
in a way that most of those who are questioning about its importance
will be contented. The Inaugural Essay written by Dr. Pass is an
excellent method to do just that. I hope that there will be active
exchange of views, both “for and against” astrosociology.
This can be only fruitful to astrosociology.
When I was 6 years old, my neighbour found me a long way from home
riding a kicksled and looking not forward but to the stars in the
sky. Later on, the society -- and sociology as a science -- drew
my attention. So, on the one hand, I have been interested in astronomy
and, on the other hand, in society or the social sciences; both for
a long time. Today, as I am writing my masters thesis, I will be
able to look into both areas of interest simultaneously. Astrosociology
fits right into the picture.
wish the best of luck to Dr. Pass in his efforts in astrosociology
as well as with Astrosociology.com. Personally, I wish that Astrosociology.com becomes a forum of exchange of information for people interested
(Astronomer / Lecturer;
Department of Physics;
University of the
Trinidad, West Indies)
Commentary Favorable Toward Establishing Astrosociology
bumped into this site as I was doing a search on Astrobiology and
was pleasantly surprised that such a
'subdiscipline' existed at all. It was of particular interest to
me, since I am an Astronomer by profession and currently a student
of sociology. Congratulations are in order to Dr. Jim Pass for this
visionary concept as humans continue to reach further out in space
physically and observationally with time. It is in keeping
with the postmodernistic times with the emphasis on multidisciplinary
and the merging of fields. I would certainly like to
introduce concepts like 'Astrosociology' in my classes as I
work to introduce new courses
on our campus on Astrobiology - an already well established
It has been said, that the journey of a thousand miles begins
with a single step - and Jim has certainly taken that step
in the right
direction. The fundamentals and basic definitions have been
well laid out in the inaugural essay. The essay is clear and
easy to understand and well laid out. It should be noted that
astronomy is one of the oldest sciences and even as it may have had
its birth in the pseudo
science of astrology, the point is that man has always been entwined
with the universe believing his fate was tied to it... in one way
or another. Few disciplines excite the layperson as does Astronomy.
Even in the Caribbean , hundreds turned out to see the Mars
at its closest approach -- surely seeing such phenomena makes
that the discipline of Astrosociology has been almost too late
Dr. Pass, I wish you luck on your venture and I intend to bookmark
this page and be a frequent visitor and hope that I would be witness
to the growth of this new, exciting and visionary discipline.
Commentary Favorable Toward Establishing Astrosociology
to Dr. Jim Pass for his writing about astrosociology and
for his new website. I caught a glimpse of the exciting
potential contributions of astrosociology while I was writing
a paper in
1995 for a conference in Oslo. Here is what I said:
has made remarkable progress over the past 20 years, despite
occasional setbacks caused by the mixed emotional reactions that the concept
of SETI provokes in politicians, university officials, and the general
public. Will the size of the SETI field grow, shrink, or
remain static over the next 20 years? Will its funding become
more reliable, and more adequate for such a significant quest? What sorts of messages
other data will it contribute over the next 20 years? During which
decade will the breakthrough discovery occur?
will the field be called 20 years from now--SETI, bioastronomy,
life in the universe, social cosmology, the study of extraterrestrial
civilizations, or simply ETI? Or will the social
sciences wholeheartedly turn their attention to the psychology,
sociology, anthropology, history, and potential futures of extraterrestrial civilizations? In
that case, astronomy may unite with the social sciences to form
a new field called social astronomy or astrosociology.
the SETI field of inquiry will expand even farther, into
philosophical and humanistic realms. A book by Frank White called The
Factor recommends that "the philosophical dimensions of SETI ought
explored as well as the technical aspects. The philosophical and humanist
aspects of contact are what interest most people, and it is in this domain
that the most important results will be felt. A major university ought
start an institute for this purpose, or perhaps the SETI Institute,
Contact, or others should begin research in this area." Perhaps
philosophical and humanistic impact of SETI, along with its impact on
humanity's self-image, will turn out to be an especially significant
contribution to future generations.
A. Vakoch, Ph.D.
Commentary Favorable Toward Establishing Astrosociology
a discipline, sociology is well-suited to make significant
contributions to the study of space exploration. For example, recently
an interdisciplinary group of scientists identified opportunities
for sociology and related disciplines to contribute to research
related to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). In
reviewing work done to date, they concluded that "Social scientists
have tended to focus on individual reactions, neglecting serious
treatment of organizations, societies, and interstate political
systems. Even representatives from anthropology and sociology
have shown a strong psychological bias, meaning that many subfields
of anthropology and sociology have yet to be tapped." Specialists
in the subfield that Professor Pass has identified as "astrosociology" could
add much to our understanding of a diverse range of issues
in the space sciences and their social impact.
Albert A., John Billingham, Steven J. Dick, Ben Finney, Michael
A. G. Michaud, Donald E. Tarter, Allen Tough, Douglas A. Vakoch 2000. "The
Role of the Social Sciences in SETI." Pages
71-85 in Tough, Allen (ed.), When SETI Succeeds: The Impact
of High-Information Contact. Bellevue, WA: Foundation
For the Future.