Sputnik from Below: Space Age Science and Public Culture in Cold War Southern Africa

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1 Citation (Scopus)


The global space race of the Cold War has largely been written as a drama between state bodies of the northern hemisphere. This essay decentres that narrative by considering the production of popular meanings and local responses of Southern African publics to the 1957 launching of the Sputnik satellites, as articulated in a selection of mostly South African newspapers targeting various linguistic and cultural readerships. Newspapers were the most important points of contact between experts and laypersons, but were also the primary medium through which the authority of expertise could be contested and appropriated. The circulation of space science news occasioned debates about modernity and progress in relation to the issues of rights and racial politics. Cold war science innovations, aligned to projects of state, presented opportunities for publics to challenge discriminatory practices, yet could also be leveraged in local practices of social differentiation, to mark out and delegitimize certain groups or ideas as ‘backward’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)687-708
Number of pages22
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Cold War
  • South Africa
  • Sputnik
  • print culture
  • public sphere
  • space race

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Anthropology


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