by David Valentine
David Valentine has had a busy year. His book, Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category was finally published in August of 2007, and it has been awarded the Ruth Benedict book prize (SOLGA/AAA), and honorable mention for the Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff Memorial Prize for the Critical Study of North America (SANA/AAA). Imagining Transgender was also nominated in the nonfiction category for the Lambda Literary Awards, but sadly failed to win. David has continued to write on this topic, including a paper he presented at the first Transsomatechnics conference this past May titled “Sue E. Generous: Toward a Theory of Non-Transexuality." True to form, the main title is a bad pun with good intentions. In this paper, which David told us is his favorite thing he has ever written, he asks us to consider the politics of being non-transexual, which may sound counter-intuitive, but he believes that it is a key question in highlighting how gendered power works out in contemporary society.
Despite his ongoing work on this research project, David is taking on a new set of research questions. Avid readers of World Views may remember that David was embarking upon a project about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. In the past year, this has morphed into a concern with the commercialization of outer space. While this project may seem quite distant from his first, there are some central intellectual and political concerns which lie at the heart of both, though it requires a bit of explanation. Possibly the best place to start is with the conference David attended in Bielefeld, Germany, in February of this year, Imagining Outer Space. The connection between the “imagining" in the title of his book, and that of this conference helps to explain these connections, David says. In both research projects, David has been concerned to consider the political implications of imagination, how
imagination maps out certain kinds of futures, and the possibilities for a vision of social justice in those imagined futures. Indeed, in both his research and teaching, David is very absorbed with the future, or rather, with the idea of the future. He has already taught his class, Anthropology of the Future, twice in the department and will do so again (naturally, in the future), in which he and his students consider the politics of future imaginings. As he notes in his syllabus for this class, the very practice of imagining futures already shapes the possibilities of what futures can emerge. That is, imagining futures is a social practice (and as such, a political act) with consequences for our present but also for how we also are able to imagine the past. These sets of questions both guided his initial research project on the politics of transgender, and set him on the path to investigating commercial space exploration. Since the end of the cold war, space exploration has been shifting from state-led exploration to private enterprise. David wants to investigate what this does to our imagination of the future not only in space but on Earth. If, as he argues, outer space is no longer seen as a commons but rather as potential real estate for private speculators, how might this enable us to tell a story that reconfirms unequal distribution of wealth here on Earth? And how might it enable a solidification of a story about the past that merely confirms the rights of the few over the many? So, whether he is studying transgender sex workers or space explorers, David’s concerns remain the same. Finally, despite rumors to the contrary, David was quick to tell us that he does not want to be the first anthropologist on the moon, not least because he won’t be able to smoke his pipe there, but mostly because there is far too much remaining to be done back here on Earth.