2016 October 22 / 15:00 - 2016 October 22 / 16:30
Round Table
Saskia Vermeylen

Saskia Vermeylen
The “Invasion” of Chaos Theory and Science Fiction in Space Law
SAT, 22.10.16 | 3pm

The influence of science-fiction literature can be detected in the advancements of space law during the first space race of the 1950s and ’60s. Space law was inherently science fictional in that it legislated practices in advance of their technical feasibility; at the time, the main concern was to prevent the use of outer space for military purposes. Hence the 1967 Outer Space Treaty established that the moon and other celestial bodies are not subject to national appropriation.
This presentation analyzes the semiotic content of space law and compares it with golden-age science fiction. While space law might have its origins in the Sputnik crisis, repeated stories of invasion from outer space and of planetary colonialism have influenced space law and give insights into the triangular relationship between science fiction, law, and technology. So far, there has been little academic effort to understand why science-fiction literature became encoded in space law as a constitution for cornucopia; haunted, though, by a dystopian future. I will engage with the work of StanisÅ‚aw Lem and his interpretation and use of chaos theory to analyze the lack of the imaginative and the speculative in both science fiction and space law. Particularly, Lem’s ideas about how writing should create “a mediating space in which openness and closure, chaos and order, creation and ratiocination engage each other” (Katherine Hayles) can be used to critique science fiction’s failure to act as a creator of the future and of civilization.


Dr. Saskia Vermeylen is a critical legal scholar working in the area of property theory and resource frontiers. Her empirical research has focused on alternative property regimes of indigenous communities, and she’s currently finishing a monograph on critical property theory drawing on the work of Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas. Vermeylen is also embarking on a new research project on the legal and ethical meaning of “common heritage of ‘mankind,’” a concept that is currently much debated in the context of deep-seabed and outer-space mining. This links to a wider ongoing research project on the meaning of an ontological turn in critical legal thinking. Inspired by Karen Barad’s and Donna Haraway’s diffraction methodology and Rosi Braidotti’s nomadic thinking, Vermeylen is exploring the meaning of ontological revisions in critical environmental law and ecofeminist philosophy in the Anthropocene. Vermeylen recently joined the law school at the University of Strathclyde (Glasgow) as a chancellor’s fellow and senior lecturer.

Image: Moon Colony – artist's concept of possible exploration programs.
NASA/SAIC/Pat Rawlings, 1995 (Public Domain)