Round Table

Tuesday, August 31, 17:00-19.00

The social life of celestial bodies. The sky in cultural perspective
Tuesday, August 31
Team: Stanislaw Iwaniszewski (Chair), Emilia Pasztor, Ari Belenki

Astronomical knowledge of what and when can offer some advantage to specific social groups and contributed to the progress of social differentiation and the development of social power structures (I refer here to the classic question exposed by Karl Marx and Wittfogel on the development of calendars and astronomy in ancient Egypt by the priesthood). People maintain that the knowledge of the stars contributed to the development of power over the ignorants. You know stars, therefore you have power over people. Stars can became symbols for (of) political power.

The knowledge of the stars gives also power to act. Knowing the daily course of the sun over the horizon, you can schedule agricultural activities. It is power for acting within the world. It has less in common with social structures and more with acting in a certain natural environment. Power to act means you are less dependent on the erratic meteorological cycles (in this case).

The knowledge of the stars can also be used to promote yourself within the world of professional astronomers. Power relations within the community of scientists may be related to the best hypothesis on Big Bang, etc. In fact, each astronomer telling about astronomical events to be seen in the sky is transformed into a type of a cultural hero, in our Western culture. You use astronomy to either obtain better salary, to get a better position within Academy of scientific association, or to explore the lack of knowledge between the commoners to became a celebrity.

The knowledge of astronomy-related structures gives you some power to act within Western society through the promotion of archaeoastronomical heritage, through the involvement with astrotourism (either to see the eclipse, or to the sunrise at Newgrange, etc). You may use this knowledge to create druidism, Celtic studies, Maya problem of 2012, Nabta Playa relationship with the precession cycle, etc. Astrotourism, ethnotourism are more positive examples of such an attitude, New Age cults, pseudoscientific claims, and uses of astronomy to promote nationalist-chauvinistic sentiments are more negative examples.

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