The typical book on social formation generally deals with race, gender, socio-economics, health and sexuality. However, Gill Valentine, in her book, takes a unique approach. She does not look at social theory in these distinct categories, rather she focuses on how societies form within a certain space or context. She states her thesis within her introduction when she proclaims, “Space is a central organizing concept within geography (p.2).” In other words, how one lives or where one lives has a profound effect on shaping their culture. Space is critical in the development of a person’s life.
Given the fact that the author focuses on space as a central theme, she breaks down and analyzes various aspects of society and living. While there are concepts that are certainly intriguing, Valentine’s main argument is synthesized into one simple idea. Valentine believes that space and geography is the primary developer of personhood. Gender roles are neutral, sexuality is neutral, and economics and race are neutral. She sees that all of these concepts are shaped by where a person lives and how they are reared within their given context. In commenting on research, she states, “In other word, gender is an effect of dominant discourses and matrices of power (p.22).” Valentine continues to support this theory throughout the text. The underlying assumption to her thesis seems to point out that man, space, and culture create the man and not that a Creator is consistently present.
Valentine’s book is intriguing, but it seems fundamentally flawed from a Christian perspective. While space, whether it is rural or city or how a home is structured is vital to the shaping of an individual, she leaves no room for God within the development of a person. As a Christian, God and his word shape my view of personhood. Scriptures such as being “fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139.14)” by God and being known by God before we were “formed in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5)” seem to fly in the face of Valentine’s thesis.
Gender or sexuality is not neutral. While our sinful culture can negatively shape the concepts, our sinfulness has distorted these images of gender, sexuality, and even race. However, Valentine ignores the God equation, which is not surprising because it reflects our current American culture.
Even within the southern American culture, the worship of God is being replaced with the worship of self, family and the culture. Mindsets of such topics like abortion and homosexuality have shifted radically even amongst conservative evangelicals. It is not due to the lack of preaching and teaching about subjects, although there may be a lack of those things, but it seems that our culture worships self and personhood more and more. The Apostle Paul points to this idea in Romans 1. In verse 23, Paul mentions that people have traded worship of God with the worship of created things. This led to corruption, wickedness and depravity. As Valentine would believe, the highest human achievement is the focus on personhood. Therefore, neutral gender and sexuality is common when all cultural spaces and influences are removed, but for the Christian, when sin and all cultural influences are removed, the Bible indicates that gender is specific and not neutral and all sexuality is rooted in male/female relationships.
Again, it is true that culture shapes and influences behaviors. However, sinful behavior and the lack of acknowledging God lead to these neutral positions. In order to engage and oppose this mindset, the church cannot be afraid to address issues of sin, creation, and personhood in light of these issues.
Valentine’s text is intriguing in which it focuses on how space influence personhood and society. It is true that a person in a rural context may have different concepts on family, race and gender than a person in a city may have. She also points that culture is influenced by the home. She is absolutely on point with her thoughts.
She does however miss the fundamental concept of God, the concepts of absolute truths, sin, and transformation through the power of God. Given the fact this is a non-Christian textbook, this is not surprising. However for the church, we must be aware that this is the philosophical shift within the culture, and we must be aware in order to defend the or faith.