Fortress Science: The Spatialities of Radio Astronomy

Doctor of Design Dissertation
Harvard University Graduate Schoool of Design
December 2020


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In December 2020, I successfully defended my Doctor of Design dissertation. I am currently in the process of developing the research into other outputs. The dissertation will soon be available online, the abstract follows:

The production of space as an internal condition to the scientific production of knowledge is an under investigated and seldom theorized process within the studies of science, technology, and society (STS), and the spatial disciplines. Through a comparative study of the world’s four leading radio telescopes (the Arecibo Observatory, the Atacama Millimeter/submillimeter Array, the Five- hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope, and MeerKAT), I examine the territorial, concentrated, and contingent spatialities of these scientific sites through the multidisciplinary lens of fortress science. Each telescope embodies differing spatial formations as a product of their institutional makeup, scientific goals, and political contexts, but exhibits similar spatial formations with regards to territorial transformations and human material concentrations. We can read these formations through the metaphor of the glacis, an historical fortress technology that acts as an obscuration in which apparent ‘emptiness’ conceals significant influence and connectivity. I draw on this analogy as an embodiment of the conceptual tools underlying the dissertation – that of technology and infrastructure, and landscape and territory – and I use these tools to position fortress science as structuring an analytical fusion of space and science. Spatial process is found to be enmeshed in the structure of scientific research itself, and as a result scientific production is found to alter, structure, and restructure space as an active force.