ASA15: Symbiotic anthropologies: theoretical commensalities and methodological mutualisms

Towards an anthropology of the 'not-yet': development planning, temporality and the future
Location Room 9
Date and Start Time 16 April, 2015 at 09:15
Sessions 2


  • Constance Smith (UCL) email
  • Hannah Elliott (University of Copenhagen) email

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Short Abstract

Development planning explicitly seeks to shape the future even as, in practice, it often falls short of its stated aims. This panel explores how the futures anticipated and evoked through development planning can be examined when they have not yet materially manifested, and may not manifest at all.

Long Abstract

Development planning explicitly seeks to shape and order the future, even as, in practice, it often falls short of its stated objectives. This panel explores how the futures anticipated and evoked through development planning can be examined conceptually and methodologically when they have not yet materially manifested and may not manifest at all.

Anthropology has been criticized for locking its subjects in an eternal 'ethnographic present', denying them both a past and a future. Anthropologists have responded by exploring the past and historical memory to grasp the presents they work in. Yet in a rapidly changing world, how do anthropologists work with the future? Does the presentism of ethnography equip us to make visible what is speculative, emerging, or misfires before it ever materialises? Methodologically, what might we draw from more generative and transformative research environments, such as the laboratory or design studio (Marcus and Rabinow 2008; Hunt 2010)?

In its attempts to make an unknown future knowable, development planning presents fertile ground for an anthropology of the 'not-yet'. While the notion of the plan emerges from western linear conceptualisations of time and 'progress', it may have quite different temporal effects. The plan's potentiality versus the 'not-yet-ness' of its implementation may produce hope, anxiety, anticipation and uncertainty, as well as actions that disrupt, physically and temporarily, its intended work. This panel invites papers which explore the creative productivity of development planning, its "elusive promises" (Abram and Weszkalnys 2013) and how as anthropologists we might approach the 'not-yet'.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Not yet 2030: future visions and an economy of anticipation on Kenya's 'new frontier'

Author: Hannah Elliott (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

Isiolo is the locus of a number of mega-projects under Kenya’s ‘Vision 2030’ blueprint, which rehash its under-developed north into a landscape of opportunity. Focusing on an economy of anticipation, this paper examines the generative effects of these plans in their non-implementation.

Long Abstract

Isiolo has historically been imagined as a border town to Kenya's under-developed northern frontier, as the end of the tarmac, the beginning and the end of a 'Kenya B'. But plans for large-scale infrastructural development across northern Kenya as part of the country's 'Vision 2030' project rehash the north from a place of 'low potential' into a landscape of opportunity. Isiolo has been identified as a key node in these plans: the site of multiple 'flagship projects', including a 'resort city' along the route of a modern highway, railway line and oil pipeline linking oilfields in South Sudan to a new port at Lamu. For a number of years now, Isiolo has been reimagined as a place of potential, a gateway to a 'new frontier' and on the brink of a radically different future.

Yet while there is much talk and rumour in Isiolo as to what these projects will bring, very little in the way of development has materially manifested. This paper explores the methodological and analytical challenges and possibilities emanating from this not-yet-ness. Focusing on an economy of anticipation - the soaring land prices, speculation and urbanization that have emerged since the mega-projects were announced - it examines the generative effects of Vision 2030 in its non-implementation. In doing so, it traces how temporal logics and values that are both explicit and implicit in the plan become translated, reconfigured and situated in everyday lives in urbanizing areas on the edges of the town, manifesting in social, material and temporal reorderings.

An everyday future: planning for hypermodernity on the margins of Casablanca

Author: Cristiana Strava (SOAS, University of London)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the role of urban plans in projecting and conjuring up images of a desirable future in Casablanca, Morocco. By looking at the role played by the urban margins in this process, I use a multi-media, ethno-historical approach to explore how the future is secured through the present.

Long Abstract

Built on the gaping holes of a colonial era quarry, Hay Mohammadi, formerly Carriere Centrale, has become a mythical neighborhood in the history of Morocco. Known for North Africa's oldest and largest slum still in existence today, Hay Mohammadi served as a laboratory for experimentation with social housing at the height of the modernist movement. Sixty years later these visionary projects stand as monuments to ruin and decay, victims of a toxic blend of political and economic circumstances. A once promising utopia, the neighbourhood has become synonymous with crime and marginality in Casablanca.

A new urban plan devised by Moroccan authorities in 2014 aims to change the face of such neighbourhoods, and Casablanca more broadly, by encouraging and endorsing a vision of the future rooted in the visual tropes of hypermoderniy. Although few believe in the fruition of these bold plans, elements of these visions infuse everyday life on the margins of Casablanca, unsettling normative understandings of progress and transforming ideas and ideals of what it means to be or become modern.

Based on fifteen months of fieldwork that combine a variety of sensorial and multi-media methodologies, this paper will employ an ethno-historical approach to explore the entanglement of forces involved in projecting an ideal future for Casablanca's urban dwellers. The main questions guiding this paper are: How does the state produce the future through plans and architectural renderings? And how is this future contested, appropriated, and secured in the present by inhabitants on the margins of Casablanca?

Mirages of the future: time and master planning in Nairobi

Author: Constance Smith (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

New master planning is reimagining Nairobi as a ‘world class’ city of the future. For public housing tenants, these glossy yet speculative visions have provoked anxiety. Residents are turning to the material histories of the estate as they negotiate the 'not-yet-ness' of the future.

Long Abstract

The Kenyan government's Vision 2030 initiative envisages the "transformation of Kenya into a middle income country by the year 2030", and the reinvention of Nairobi as a "world-class metropolis". Reproducing the familiar processual chronology of development planning, Vision 2030 is assumed as an endpoint, a destination, to which the inexorable march of progress will arrive in fifteen years time.

Yet these glossy visions of Nairobi as a global city often sit uncomfortably with the architectural legacies of Kenya's imperial past. For residents of the city's colonial-era public housing, this past is very much present: they continue to live in a material environment designed to contain colonial subjects. As the future regeneration of these estates looms ever larger, the pasts of these communities have come into sharp focus. Vision 2030 seems to have no place for these historic neighbourhoods, emphasizing instead the model of a networked, ahistorical, world city.

This paper focuses on Kaloleni, a housing estate built in the 1940s, as residents negotiate their lives in relation to ambiguous histories and uncertain futures. Whilst planning may tell itself its own story about progress and achievement, it may produce quite different temporal and material effects. City-level master planning has provoked ambivalent sentiments of anxiety, hope and speculation among residents, as well as a reengagement with the social and material histories of the estate. This paper explores the generative potential of these negotiations and disruptions, illuminating new ways of thinking about the past, and of negotiating the uncertainty of the future.

The future of the city of São Paulo from a pessimistic point of view - mid-twentieth century

Author: Bruno Zorek (Universidade Estadual de Campinas - Unicamp)  email

Short Abstract

From a perspective that combines History, Sociology and Anthropology, this paper proposal is to examine how pessimistic representations of the future of São Paulo, the main Brazilian metropolis, have played in the production of the city itself, in a context of hegemonic optimism.

Long Abstract

There was a moment, in the mid-twentieth century, in which São Paulo, the main Brazilian metropolis, was considered the fastest growing city in the world. In the 1950s, for example, it was estimated that, on average, a house was built every 20 minutes in São Paulo. The astonishing growth of the city was celebrated by the newspapers, by the public power and by much of the population. São Paulo was seen as the spearhead of the Brazilian development and as an indicative that finally Brazil was fulfilling its "destiny" to become a potency of the future.

However, for a few -such as the engineer, architect and urban planner Luiz de Anhaia Mello-, the rapid growth of São Paulo was a "sign of the times". For him, if the State did not act immediately to contain the expansion of the city, the future would be apocalyptic. Although his point of view was not hegemonic, that pessimistic representation had an important role in the context, because Anhaia Mello occupied a prominent place in the intellectual field of the city.

This paper is part of a study that combines History, Sociology and Anthropology to explore the meanings that the representations of São Paulo's future had in the production of the city itself, in the symbolic and concrete senses. Here, the proposal is to examine the characteristics of Anhaia Mello's representations and how these representations have played in the shaping of São Paulo's future.

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"One city, one vision": contradictions in urban futures

Author: Samantha Hyler (Lund University)  email

Short Abstract

What is, and how can a city become, ‘socially sustainable?’ Helsingborg is one of many cities currently implementing vision plans that incorporates branding and marketing to construct an imagined fantasy future. This paper explores what counts as ‘socially sustainable’ in cities’ imagined futures.

Long Abstract

The year 2035 marks a point in the not-so-distant future towards which employees of the city of Helsingborg, Sweden currently aspire with their plans, visions, and actions. The stakes are set high for the future of this city, as politicians recently adopted a vision plan called 'Helsingborg 2035' that pushes an agenda of a joint, global, creative, vibrant, and balanced city. Or in other words, it should be a 'sustainable' and tolerant city. Indicative of a utopian future, the vision nevertheless guides Helsingborg towards a future that at times stands in opposition to past and current experiences of the city, which are often characterized by stark socioeconomic division, localness, and tranquility.

This paper specifically addresses the future oriented politics of the Helsingborg 2035 campaign by anthropologically investigating notions of the fantasy futurism and enforced presentism (Guyer 2007) in development vision plans. The leaders of the vision use marketing and branding techniques in planning the future of this city in order to transform and steer its image towards one of a sustainable place. I examine how the notion of social sustainability is constructed, stabilized, and maintained by the discourses produced by city planners who work with the future vision development plans and social sustainability in its various departments and manifestations. Through this simultaneous process of creating the vision and constructing the future, what counts as 'socially sustainable' for the future city is being developed.

Guyer, Jane (2007). Prophecy and the near future: Thoughts on macroeconomic, evangelical, and punctuated time. American Anthropologist, 34(3). Pp. 409-421

Negotiating the future: an anthropological investigation of state transformation and local government reform in Trinidad and Tobago

Author: Taapsi Ramchandani (Syracuse University )  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores local government reform in Trinidad and Tobago as it aspires to reach “developed” country status by 2020. Preliminary research of two Ministries shows that contradictory interpretations of the state’s future goals reveal the negotiation of state power in a decentralizing state.

Long Abstract

In 2002, the government of Trinidad and Tobago (TT) adopted a policy document, Vision 2020, which outlined plans for the country to reach "developed" status by the year 2020. It was a concerted effort by one of the richest Caribbean countries to economically and ideologically fashion a new post-colonial identity. Part of this "vision" entailed a shift towards decentralization whereby the centralized government would give more administrative and financial control to local governments. This paper explores Vision 2020 through its impact on urban development initiatives in the town of Chaguanas where the struggle for state versus local control of economic resources is directly impacted by the state's rhetoric on decentralization, and consequently its new politico-economic status in the world order. Chaguanas is one of the fastest growing regions in TT, and is resource-rich in undeveloped agricultural lands, making it an ethnographically rich space to investigate local manifestations of state goals on urban development and decentralization. Methodologically, this research analyses the future trajectory of the TT state by investigating the present-day activities of two Ministries whose divergent interpretations of state-led development have led them to independently collaborate with non-state actors to manage urbanization in Chaguanas. This paper contends that the tension between existing and future goals of state planning has opened new spaces for certain Ministries to negotiate their power through collaborations with civil society and transnational organizations. These networks paradoxically consolidate central authority even as they resemble consortiums of shifting alliances held together by the uncertainty of a not-yet-decentralized government.

When less change gives hope for change: development and buffer culture in Montenegro and Latvia

Author: Klavs Sedlenieks (Riga Stradins University)  email

Short Abstract

Based on the material from Montenegro and Latvia I argue that series of 'development' projects may cause a cultural buffer the role of which is to minimise the adverse effects of continuous change. A further improvement of life may require stopping yet another wave of 'elusive-promises'

Long Abstract

When the British anthropologist Mary Edith Durham went to Montenegro in the wake of 20th century, she observed a country of rapid change. When I came to the same place a century later, I observed the same. In this presentation I will argue that Montenegro is a typical example of societies that have experienced at least a century of constant stream of dramatic development projects. This process has lead to something I call a buffer culture - a set of features that are geared towards withstanding continuous waves of consecutive change and development projects. From the perspective of everyday life, what becomes problematic here is not the existing living conditions, but the never-ending cycles of political upheaval caused by 'development' (as a project that is aimed to improvement of life). Development projects tend to be locked in the 'developmental present' when the current activities exists as if there were none before or, as in the case of political development, the new regimes can be openly hostile to the proposals and directions instigated by the previous regimes. Yet another 'paradigm shift' in this situation will just reinforce the basis of the buffer culture. A further improvement of life may need stopping the new wave of 'elusive promises'. In the context of frequent change and series of alleged transitions, anthropologists may represent a voice that can highlight the complex cultural response to the continuous 'elusive promises' and the 'not-yet' that never becomes 'now'. Based on ethnographic material from Montenegro and Latvia

Towards an anthropology of the ‘not-yet’: development planning, temporality and the future

Author: Saffron Woodcraft (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the role of ‘meanwhile spaces’, temporary community development projects, as a means of materializing in the present the new, sustainable communities that are imagined as part of London’s post-Olympic legacy.

Long Abstract

London’s Olympic bid was built on a special vision of the 2012 games as a “force for regeneration” (House of Commons Debates “London 2012 Olympic Bid” 2005) in East London. The goal is social and economic transformation for what is described as “one of the poorest and most deprived” (MacRury and Poynter 2009) parts of the city. New homes and sustainable new communities have been identified as key indicators of the success of London’s Olympic legacy (Mayors Office 2011; London 2012/LOCOG 2010); five new neighbourhoods and over 7,000 new homes will be built in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park over the next 20-years as part of London’s Legacy Communities Scheme.

Creating a ‘sense of community’ is an important concern for the planners, policymakers and built environment professionals responsible for delivering this vision, driven by anxieties about the perceived failure of previous large-scale new housing developments to create socially integrated and cohesive new neighbourhoods. This paper explores how ‘meanwhile’ community development projects - initiatives to create temporary neighbourhood spaces for, and sometimes with, local residents - are conceived as a means of materializing in the present a fleeting glimpse of future imaginaries and the analytical possibilities this presents to understand how future plans legitimize action in the present.


House of Commons Debates “London 2012 Olympic Bid.” 2005. Hansard.

London 2012/LOCOG. 2010. London 2012 Sustainability Plan. London: London 2012/LOCOG.

MacRury, Iain, and Gavin Poynter. 2009. London’s Olympic Legacy A “Thinkpiece” Report Prepared for the OECD and Department for Communities and Local Government. London East Research Institute.

Mayors Office. 2011. Convergence Framework and Action Plan 2011-2015. Six Host Boroughs, Mayors Office.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.