Leverhulme Research Fellowship: Utopian Literatures and Space Law

Dr Saskia Vermeylen has been awarded a two year Leverhulme Research Fellowship to work on Utopian literatures and space law.

The privatisation and commercialisation of outer space exploration and exploitation are challenging the utopian aims of non-appropriation of early space law treaties. The main aim of this project is to explore the relationship between space law and technology through a semiotic analysis of space law texts and utopian literatures, and to develop a new manifesto for space law that addresses the challenges of space exploration and exploitation in the 21st century.

Performance on space law and colonisation at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa, June-July 2018

This projects fits within Saskia’s wider interest to develop a new research group around law and humanities and builds further on her work on storytelling and a phenomenological approach to legal theory.

As part of the fellowship Saskia will seek to curate exhibitions and performances around space law in Vienna and Addis Ababa with a collective of artists. This will include her own performance she developed last year around storytelling and space colonisation which she performed together with Dr Dylan McGarry and Mika Schroder at the International Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa.

In addition, she will also include several research visits and fellowships at appropriate research institutions specialized in arts and law across Europe and the US, including some training in performance art.

Informed by a study of science fiction literature, this project will explore how utopian visions can be harnessed to develop an imaginative jurisprudence of property and sovereignty which can interface with the diversity of 21st century space projects and visions for exploring outer space.

Specifically, it will:

  1. Analyse the relationship between science fiction and space law and examine how each addresses the historical evolution of private property and national sovereignty;
  2. Evaluate the imaginative jurisprudence of space law in relation to sovereignty and property through an analysis of critical utopian and dystopian literatures;
  3. Draw on the lessons from utopian and science fiction studies to develop alternative imaginaries of property and sovereignty which can be written into a new legal manifesto for space law
  4. Develop arts based practice to deepen the synergies between arts and law in the area of space law.


For more details on the work she wants to explore, see Saskia’s TEDx Lancaster U talk on Space Law and Science Fiction Literature, or her invited talk on The “Invasion” of Chaos Theory and Science Fiction in Space Law as part of the Symposium Propulsion: On Changing Futures organised by the University of Applied Arts, Vienna.