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Inaugural Essay Feedback Page


This 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.

Suggested areas of focus for Part One include:


the working definition of astrosociology (including any modifications);
the conceptualization of societies split into the astrosocial sector and non-astrosocial
the model of astrosociological response presented in Figure One;
the five Central Themes of Astrosociology; and:
the general need for astrosociology as a new subfield of sociology.

The hope is that your reactions will stimulate new ideas, and thereby enthusiasm 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!

Feedback Contributions:




Since posting of Part Two:



Since posting of Part One:



Total Contributions:


Feedback was from 2004...


Feedback Contributions

Date Posted

Contributor's Name
(Affiliation &
  Additional Info.)

 Message Contents
(response to Part One of Inaugural Essay)


Ken Duffy
(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 of Astrosociology.

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.

Added on 12/30/04:

"Tomorrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time." ----Ralph Waldo Emerson.

You did just that with your vision for Astrosociology.


Dr. David H. Lempert
(Associate Professor; George Washington



Astrosociology:  Studying the Fascinating as Well as the Mundane

DL = Dr. David Lempert
JP = Jim Pass

(DL) Jim,

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.

From 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.


David Lempert, Ph.D. (social anthropology),

(JP) Dear David,

Thank you for your comments.  As I propose it, astrosociology does indeed focus 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.

I 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 the research questions you mention fall easily under the purview of astrosociology.

I never expected that all would accept my comments as they currently stand.  Please 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!

Thank 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,

You are welcome to post my comments on your feedback page.  We do share common goals. 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.




I 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 a neglected facet of social life in both centuries exhibiting a human presence in space (not to mention astrosocial phenomena before spaceflight was possible).

[Dr. Lempert's final reaction]:

(DL) Jim,

I like it!  Hope it brings others into the discussion.




Dr. Richard A. Hilbert
(Professor of Sociology;
Department of Sociology and Anthropology;
Gustavus Adolphus


Commentary Critical of Establishing Astrosociology

This is a summary of extended correspondence with Jim Pass which he has asked me to write for public posting.

Professor Pass is calling for discussion among sociologists interested in outer space and space-related matters.  A few responses on his web page suggest interesting topics and questions that would be fun to talk about in an informal or researchable way.  I see no problem with that and would enjoy participating.

However, Professor Pass might easily have called for this discussion in a two or three sentence announcement.  Instead he proposes a "new subfield" in 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 these
proliferations as justification for his proposal even as he refrains from calling his area a "sociology of space (etc.)" On that comparison, however, please note:  Virtually every "sociology of" area has derived historically from existing literature among a community of like-minded scholars, not from an inaugural essay decrying the lack of attention to the sub-area.  Thus Professor Pass is putting the cart before the horse: There are no citations to any existing literature (although he might well have pulled a
literature together)--instead it appears that the only astrosociological literature is the essay proposing and justifying astrosociology in the first place.

Indeed, Professor Pass sees virtue in the proposal in the mere fact that no such field exists--he thinks that it "should" exist, as though something major has been neglected or written out by sociologists.  Is there a bias against a sociology of (space, etc.)?  Demonstrating such a bias would have to include showing how space-related research is systematically rejected by the discipline just because of its substantive area.  Would quantitative studies, peer approved for technique, be rejected by a journal simply because it documents a declining level of scientific competence at NASA?  Would Conversation Analysts reject a paper simply because it included transcribed tapes of astronaut chatter on the space station?  I doubt this seriously; if anything, there would be a bias toward publishing an ethnography by a sociologist actually on the space shuttle no matter how poorly the ethnography was conducted.

I suspect that one reason there is so little sociology of (space, etc.) is the same reason there are so few studies of Presidential cabinet meetings:  Lack of access.

Still, Professor Pass sees a bias, so I have to ask:  Why on earth are sociologists an exception to the rest of society whose members are fascinated about everything to do with space and space travel?  Biases within sociology are generally directed against moves that threaten the 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 by astrosociology?

Also revealing the self-aggrandizement of this essay is the way in which it proposes something new as though it already exists, albeit as an overlooked entity.  References to "this new subfield" deflect attention from its creator as though he were merely calling readers' attention to it; indeed even the definition of "astrosociology" as studies of (existing)" astrosociological phenomena" is designed to give the impression that without the proposal there would still "be" something, heretofore something missing.  This problem is only worsened by the anticipation that it remains for "others" in the future to specify and delimit exactly what 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 how the distinction isn't really a real distinction, as in how astrosociological and non-astrosociological phenomena inter-penetrate or feed back into each other.  But I won't go into that.)

Finally, 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 simply 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 Professor Pass is even trying to make the distinction.  Thus to whatever extent a new group of sociologists invent and prescribe a topical domain for research and study on the basis of the recommendations in this inaugural essay, what they see as their "findings" will be their own reflections.

Richard A. Hilbert



Total Drek
(identity unknown,
sociology graduate


Critical Blog Commentary:  Putting the "Ass" in "Astro"


Check out this weblog entry critical of astrosociology:

Here is the response by Jim Pass as Drek's "guest":


Dr. Kieran Healy
(Assistant Professor of
Sociology; University of


Critical Blog Commentary:  Sociology's Final Frontier


Check out this weblog entry critical of astrosociology:


Dr. Jeremy Freese
(Assistant Professor of Sociology; University of Wisconsin-Madison)


Critical Blog Commentary:  more on astrosociology (post sponsored by Tang)


Check out this weblog entry critical of astrosociology:

     Weblog Entry for 06/30/2004



Dr. Albert A. Harrison
(Professor of Psychology;
University of California,


Issues to Consider in Establishing a New Subfield...

(Two-Way Feedback)

JP = Jim Pass
(all other comments by Dr. Harrison)


Hello Jim,

There has been a remarkable confluence of obligations and opportunities lately 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.

First, I strongly favor the idea of astrosociology and trying to drum up enthusiasm 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 society at large. There are however some popular writers who discuss sociological phenomena (whether they know it or not) including Greg Klerkx.

Second, whereas it is fine and dandy to talk in terms of sectors and the interaction 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 a macro-level 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 be some upfront, strong statement in the essay on exactly which astrosociological phenomena are included and which are not.

(JP) Astrosociology, 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 beings.  These ideas have social significance, not for their possible existence, but for their real effects on a particular society.

(JP-continued) Among other things, as you suggest, astrosociology studies (1) how the space sciences are carried out (organizational analysis), (2) their impact on society, (3) society's impact on the space sciences, and (4) the social and cultural change attributable at least in part to astrosocial phenomena.  So, astrosociology involves, in part, the study of the influences of space exploration and the space sciences (e.g., astronomy, astrobiology, SETI).  Any social behavior related to outer space in any way falls under the purview of astrosociology.

Fourth, 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.

The best was to get this is to contact the Foundation for the Future for a 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.

Fifth, some people in sociology will see no need for this.  They will argue 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 paper.

Perhaps a good way to get this off the ground might be to chair a panel at a 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."

My sense is that your own reading on the topic has only recently begun, and 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 or between simple space advocacy and astrosociology.  In this area, the astrosociological community would be invaluable in helping 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 of astrosociology.

I hope you find these comments of use.



Albert A. Harrison
Professor of Psychology

(JP) I want to thank Dr. Harrison for his supportive and constructive comments. Such contributions are vital to the establishment of astrosociology!


Dr. John Oliver
(Associate Professor;
Associate Chair/Undergraduate
Department of Astronomy,
University of Florida)

(Project AST@RHO
see the night sky at


Defining a New Subfield…

(Two-Way Feedback)

JO = Dr. John Oliver
JP = Jim Pass


Astrosociology would be the sociology of stars.  Perhaps you mean socio-astronomy.

(JP) Thank 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.

(JO) This is similar to astroarchaeology and archaeoastronomy:

- archaeoastronomy: astronomical alignments and elements found in archaeology;

- astroarchaeology: a study of the ruins of long dead stars;

and thus:

- socioastronomy: astronomical aspects of sociology;
- astrosociology: sociology of stars.

(JP) As 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.

(JP-continued) In 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,

(JP-continued) Thank 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.

(J0) This makes sense ... you have convinced me.

[Note: I thank Dr. Oliver for challenging me to reevaluate my decision to use “astrosociology” as the name of this new subfield – JP].


William (Bill) Kornblum
(Professor of Sociology;
Graduate Center,
City University of
New York)



Commentary Favorable Toward Establishing Astrosociology

Dear 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?

I 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.

So 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.



Markku Hakulinen
(Master of Science
     student in sociology;
University of Turku,


Commentary Favorable Toward Establishing Astrosociology

First, 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.

A great deal must be done before astrosociology will reach a steady status as 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.

I wish the best of luck to Dr. Pass in his efforts in astrosociology as well as with Personally, I wish that becomes a forum of exchange of information for people interested in astrosociology.


Dr. Shirin Haque
(Astronomer / Lecturer;
Department of Physics;
University of the
     West Indies;
St. Augustine
Trinidad, West Indies)


Commentary Favorable Toward Establishing Astrosociology

I 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 approach 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 discipline.

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 one think that the discipline of Astrosociology has been almost too late in coming!

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.



Dr. Allen Tough
(Coordinator of the
    Invitation to ETI


Commentary Favorable Toward Establishing Astrosociology

Congratulations 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:

SETI 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 and
other data will it contribute over the next 20 years?  During which decade will the breakthrough discovery occur?

What 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.

Perhaps the SETI field of inquiry will expand even farther, into philosophical and humanistic realms. A book by Frank White called The SETI Factor recommends that "the philosophical dimensions of SETI ought to be 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 to start an institute for this purpose, or perhaps the SETI Institute,
Contact, or others should begin research in this area." Perhaps the 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.




Douglas A. Vakoch, Ph.D.
(SETI Institute)


Commentary Favorable Toward Establishing Astrosociology

As 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.

Quote taken from:
Harrison, 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.



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