Space and the Atom: Article Analysis

This essay will evaluate the article on space exploration and Cold War geopolitics. Space and the Atom: On the Popular Geopolitics of Cold War Rocketry by MacDonald (2008) discusses the popular place of missile technology in the Cold War rather than on any technical or strategic aspects. The article analyzes how Cold War militarism was sustained by popular movements related to space exploration, carried out through everyday activities such as playing with toy rockets. The author argues that the children’s toy of the ‘Corporal’ die-cast model ultimately serves as a positive and playful lucid representation of nuclear weapons. This study presents an example of play being a co-constituent of the geopolitical climate and militarism culture. However, the critique related to the nature of children’s war play puts some of this article’s arguments under question.

The article in question was written in the context of the emerging interest in extra-terrestrial geography, examining the place of rocketry through the cultural, political, and geopolitical frameworks of the Cold War era. MacDonald’s (2008) argument is situated within a wider literature on critical geopolitics that appeals to the circulation of geopolitical power through popular culture. Critical geopolitics as an approach deconstructs space programs’ nationalist performativity by considering the political and economic value placed on the spectacle of spaceflight (Klinger 2021). The article strives to examine how Cold War strategic advantage technologies were activated and sustained through popular media and everyday experience (MacDonald, 2008). Rather than critiquing popular movies, this article focused on more mundane activities, such as play and ostensibly improbable geopolitical agents like children. The author explains his choice by believing that this is where the missile gets most of its geopolitical power.

The author argues that space exploration and the Cold War are carried out and internalized through the medium of play. Thus, through the practice of defending the Western, free, capitalist self against ‘the other,’ the child consumer slash player is incorporated into a broader geopolitical framework (MacDonald, 2008). According to MacDonald (2008), not only do toys and games possess extraordinary propaganda value but, more notably, they also offer informal learning in areas that easily transition into “real world” technology and activities. Moreover, playing with rockets naturalizes Cold War anxiety and perhaps helps kids make sense of such complex concepts as loss and death (MacDonald, 2008).

An accurate rocket model can be perceived as a licensed correlate that will encourage an interest in and support the original hardware. Most importantly, such toys convey the idea that the realm of space and the technical development of its exploration belongs to children in their upcoming adult lives (MacDonald, 2008). In other words, the article argues that the missile toy instilled, legitimized, and sustained a particular geopolitical logic.

However, the argument about the automatic installment of the larger geopolitical framework through play is not entirely convincing. Woodyer and Carter (2020) argue that in developing the notion of ‘domestic geopolitics,’ one must abstain from the temptation to see a drip-down effect from macro to micro: from the geopolitical ‘there’ to the geopolitical ‘here.’ Turning to the nature of play itself, the question can be raised if the geopolitical discourses that shape society are merely absorbed into play through imitation. Instead, an alternative argument suggests that children’s play enters these geopolitical contours in various ways, with the possibility of disrupting discourses and reconfiguring relationships and practices. (Woodyer & Carter, 2020). Play, therefore, can be as much about invention as mimicking, by its very nature undermining the power of MacDonald’s argument.

A notable quality that can be interpreted as a weakness in this study is its ambiguity. Corporal Dinky’s toy functions as simultaneously a rocket and a missile, a weapon and a vehicle. It is about war and peace, space exploration, and Cold War capitalism defense (MacDonald, 2008). MacDonald (2008) argues that this ‘doubling down’ helped naturalize the Cold War’s geopolitical anxieties. However, he points out that the infinite limitedness of the toy perhaps exists more in the eyes of the critics (MacDonald, 2008). As a result, in his account of the domestication of geopolitical thinking, MacDonald focuses on the theoretical potential. Toys indeed play a key role in the co-creation of geopolitical vision since the familiar nature of play allows it to conceptualize and thus sustain popular notions (Woodyer & Carter, 2020).

However, children are not simply vessels passively absorbing ideas and practices through a linear process of socialization (Woodyer & Carter, 2020). Therefore, it is questionable whether the process of playing is linear and conductive of every complex concept that critics such as MacDonald envision.

To conclude, this article is a valuable start for understanding the inner-outer, domestic-global geopolitical interplay and assessing the cultural significance of play concerning geopolitical cultures. This article presents play as a precursor to space exploration and a rehearsal of geopolitical involvement. It discusses how nuclear weapons were made discernible in, and transposable to, a domestic context through introducing a missile toy. However, without empirical research involving children’s personified practices of war play, it may be difficult to fully confirm the author’s conclusions.


Klinger, Julie Michelle. 2021. “Environmental Geopolitics and Outer SpaceGeopolitics 26 (3): 666–703. Web.

Macdonald, Fraser. 2008. “Space and the Atom: On the Popular Geopolitics of Cold War Rocketry”. Geopolitics 13 (4): 611–34. Web.

Woodyer, Tara, and Sean Carter. 2020. “Domesticating the Geopolitical: Rethinking Popular Geopolitics through Play”. Geopolitics 25 (5): 1050–74. Web.

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