Exit Strategy: Profit, Cosmology, and the Future of Humans in Space - David Valentine

In the last decade, commercial space—or NewSpace—enterprises have increasingly found their way into the news. But NewSpace advocates have been working toward commercial space flight for more than 30 years, bound together by two convictions: first, that humanity’s future is destined to be off Earth, a move which will radically transform us biologically and culturally; and second that a free market capitalist approach to space exploration and settlement is the best guarantor of this future. Critical social scientists, on the other hand, have argued that a human future in space is a mere fantasy and that the move by private enterprises into space will merely reproduce, rather than revolutionize, the forms of social and cultural life that emerged under capitalism.

In his lecture, Dr. Valentine will seek to open up both sets of assumptions. He will show that the short-term profit horizons of finance capitalism are actually incompatible with the long-term visions and goals of NewSpace entrepreneurs. But he will also argue against the critical assessment that NewSpace visions should be dismissed as mere fantasies. Drawing on anthropological theories that see narratives as material and consequential, Dr. Valentine will show that we should take seriously the idea that human settlement of space is not only a possibility, but that from it may develop radically different forms of economic, social, and political life than those that have emerged, so far, on Earth.

David Valentine is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota where has been a faculty member since 2004. He received his PhD in linguistic and cultural anthropology from New York University in 2000. His dissertation work was on the politics, histories, and meanings of the category transgender. His book, Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category (Duke University Press 2007), was awarded the Ruth Benedict Book Prize (SOLGA/American Anthropological Association) and was a finalist for the 2007 Lambda Literary Awards. His current research is a five-year, longitudinal study of imaginings and narratives of the future among commercial outer space entrepreneurs, funded by the National Science Foundation.