Where do we go? Where do we go now, sweet blog o’ mine? Part 2 of 2

I took a stab at graphically representing some of my research interests and possible directions. I originally though of creating a neat, crisp Venn diagram. However, I quickly realized that all my concepts had fuzzy, squishy boundaries. I’m OK with that, quite fine, actually. But I still took the opportunity to sketch out the following loud, crowded, and possibly quite inaccurate Venn diagram, for kicks… It’s big, like a 50 krillion AU view of my universe. I’m gonna need to zoom in eventually.

research_agenda_1.1

Does my research agenda make you uncomfortable, Mr. Lebowski?
–Uh, is that what this is a picture of?
In a sense, yes. My research has been commended as being strongly
intersectional which bothers some privileged people. The word itself
makes some privileged people uncomfortable. Intersectionality.

Trying to figure out a useful purpose for adding my voice to the growing volume of all discourse, I have to ask, “what’s my contribution”? As of a few months ago, I have felt a visceral need to write from my personal points of view presenting first as a formerly genderqueer male now negotiating the built environment both as an unqualified woman and also as a trans woman. These perspectives are not often given much mainstream press, and they are given even less academic press. It’s a personal position, yes, informed by my experiences; yet don’t all academics approach their research informed by some deep personal interest, if they are honest?

A great number of brilliant trans-feminist writers have dauntlessly treaded into feminist and political writing. I’ve come into that discourse late and anything that I can possibly say has very likely already been said much more intelligently. There is no need for me to recapitulate what has been written. So again, “what’s my contribution?”

Feminism has spoken volumes about space. It has engaged space in a concrete and practical manner that is experienced in everyday life. However, my feeling has been that something has been missing from many feminist geographies. Perhaps I’ve been reading only the outdated ones, but too many seem far too steeped in narrow, essentializing second-wave-influenced feminism. As I risk putting my foot in my mouth before having conducted a more thorough literature review, somebody more well versed in this area should feel free to give me a corrective beatdown if needed. Still, I get awfully exasperated by geographies practically and nearly exclusively defining gender by entirely binary, essentialist, cisgender definitions. Thus I feel the nagging sense that space needs to be revisited from a newer, more relevant, more inclusive feminism–even a trans-feminism, specifically. We need to dismantle and re-imagine space where gender is concerned. It needs a fresher GSM approach.

There is also a theoretical/practical side. I’m in academia, currently housed in a school with architects and urban planners, where students are thinking about the planning stages and material aspects of space. Yet, I am neither a planner nor an architect. I’m far more into the philosophical, theoretical, and political aspects of space–think sociology, history, communication, political philosophy. Also I look at political action from the ground up rather than from the top down. Architects and planners typically work for top-downers, whereas I’m more interested in the bottom-up production, re-appropriation, and downright abuse of space.

So, should I stick around the planners, my aim is to grapple with space in these early steps, space in the stage of its material production that later gives form to its concrete manifestation. Along this path, my aim is to throw some wrenches into the planning machine. I’ve never felt that planners and architects adequately engage with questions of socio-economics and political marginalization (and ethics, for that matter) in their training, much less their practice. Instead, they are trained to satisfy their developer and political overloards. I would like to interrogate the abstractions, assumptions, and shortcomings in planning in order to reconfigure the new spaces we create.

Toward those ends, we do still need to examine what exists in our everyday lived experiences, using more relevant approaches. At the same time, we ought to do something with those critiques instead of just gnashing our teeth and wailing at the sky. We need to take that knowledge and insert it into the discourse of the material production of space.

Why space, in particular, then? Outside of a few academic fields, most people take space for granted, or at least we don’t think sociologically of space itself as the problematic. We may focus on atomized aspects of space like lighting, access, and aesthetics superficially. However, there are deeper social dimensions to explore. Moreover, there are philosophical and ontological aspects of space that lead to the material manifestations and social aspects.

Space, then, is not merely an empty container for social interactions to occur. Like technology, space has values; it shapes us and our behaviors. Space can change us. As a result, much of my time is spent connecting the practical and the theoretical, as I am pretending to be academic. We are physical beings who negotiate space, appear in space, and act in space. Following this line, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that very real, very literal life-or-death consequences are at work.

Unfortunately, as many gender minorities can attest, space can oppress and bludgeon us, as unexamined and therefore unquestioned ideologies effortlessly (re)produce oppressive spaces. Perhaps I have arrived at some driving forces animating my academic interests: spatial oligarchy and spatially-manifested oppression, as well as the idea of loosening (per Franck and Stevens) space and liberating space through insurgent, immanent actions. We need to be able to express ourselves freely and safely in space. There are, of course, many ways that we can address these everyday lived experiences. I as one person, cannot address all of them in my work. So I pick what I can work with and lend my effort as part of the larger discourse. Space is something that I have come to understand and can reasonably discuss in social science fields that typically do not think about space. It is a manageable piece I can work with. It’s a start, at least.

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