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Waste makes the frontier: Rethinking the mine, the dump, the launch site, and the asteroid in the contemporary space race

Language and Nature
research talks
Wednesday 8 February 2023, 17:00

Dr Julie Klinger, Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences at the University of Delaware

Eventbrite registration here:


This talk is an attempt to bring together sites often treated in isolation to spatialize their material and meaningful relationships in our contemporary world-historical moment. It is based on a work in progress that conceptualizes the physical and ideological practices of waste-making as constitutive of the diverse suite of dreams, nightmares, capital flows, and other sociospatial transformations captured under the frontier signifier. Starting from the historic conjuncture in 2021 in which billionaire space joyrides coincided with global pandemics and ongoing anthropogenic climate disasters, and bringing geographies of supply chains and discard studies into conversation with critical space scholarship, this paper examines relations among five sites of waste-making—mines for so-called 'critical materials', electronic waste, dumps, launch sites, and asteroids—to show how expansive frontier imaginaries are rooted in complex yet bounded sites and physical objects. The paper concludes with a critical examination of this theorization: neither frontiers nor waste-lands exist a priori, they have complex before and afterlives to their interpellation as such. It is in these complex before- and afterlives that we can find the greatest possibilities for collaborative survival, for obviating apocalypse and escapism.


Dr. Julie Michelle Klinger is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences at the University of Delaware, Associate Director of the Minerals, Materials, and Society program, Principal Investigator of two major international research projects funded by the US National Science Foundation Award on minerals and materials trade and development. She is a technical expert to the International Standards Organization Committee 298: Rare Earth Supply Chain Transparency and Traceability. Dr. Klinger’s global research agenda consists of three distinct yet interlinked initiatives: critical minerals supply chains, global space politics, and rural and Indigenous community climate resilience. Dr. Klinger has conducted extensive multilingual qualitative and quantitative fieldwork on four continents over the past two decades. She has published numerous articles on rare earth elements, natural resource use, environmental politics, and outer space, including the award-winning 2018 book Rare Earth Frontiers: From Terrestrial Subsoils to Lunar Landscapes.

She has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, a Certificate in China Studies from The Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center for Chinese and American Studies, and a PhD in Geography from the University of California, Berkeley. She is an alum of Rotary International Youth Exchange.