EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(W060)

Skeletons in the subjunctive: challenges of studying future(s)

Location JHT3
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30

Convenors

Nanna Schneidermann (University of Cape Town) email
Lotte Meinert (Århus University) email
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Long Abstract

In general, anthropologists investigate and theorize the present of everyday social practice, and its connections to historical, societal, and personal pasts. But how can we do research on and speak in theoretically interesting terms about the future and its connections to pasts and presents?

"The subjunctive" is the imaginative, explorative, doubtful, and hopeful mood in action that people employ, as the future emerges as open, unpredictable or threatening; in other words, a temporal space of "what if…?".

Crises, personal and contextual, are events that may radically change not only the narrative skeleton of the future, but also the directionality of action. We therefore need to analyze what happens when people's expectations towards the future are shattered by crisis, and it becomes obvious that there are no ways to access 'the good life' in the future.

Are imagined futures looming skeletons stealing away (possible) life chances? Or do futures become inspiration to break with the predictable, belief in improvement? Can experiences of crisis be generative moments for possible other futures?

We invite papers that present empirical studies and/or discuss theoretical perspectives on analyzing the future, breaking with conventional ideas about human agency in time.

Discussant: Susanne Højlund, Anne Line Dalsgård

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Precarious prospects

Author: Henrik Vigh (University of Copenhagen)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper analyses the relationship between conflict, social invisibility and potentiality. It looks at 'visions of violence' and shows how anticipations of conflict influence the unfolding of individual and social life. Taking its empirical point of departure in fieldwork conducted in the cities of Belfast and Bissau the paper illuminates the way futures are sought foretold and prospects negotiated, as people attempt to pre-empt negative social development and avoid potentially violent events. In doing so, the paper will demonstrate how violence, in both Belfast and Bissau, is seen as an underlying possibility; an imagined oncoming event residing in the prospective shadow of the present.

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Still studying the situation: young Ugandans figuring the future

Author: Lotte Meinert (Århus University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper is about Agenda, a young man in Northern Uganda, his family and friends and how they engage in the subjunctive mode; trying to 'study the future' by looking for signs in the present and decoding messages from the past.

During the civil war in Northern Uganda Agenda's family moved to a refugee camp near Gulu town. Last year, after the strife ended, the family moved back to their original home. Agenda remained in Gulu town to pursue schooling. Shortly after Agenda's father had built a home in the village, lightening stroke the house, killed his father and injured two sons. Agenda, who was the eldest son and his friend made a trip back to 'study the situation and find out what steps to take'. Rumors said people had been killed on the land and spirits were lurking around restlessly causing misfortune. Thus the skeletons should be found and taken home for burial. Some family members felt that it was all caused by building a traditional grass-thatched house. Others indicated that the crisis was caused by a land dispute and the ancestors needed consultation.

With a point of departure in this case the paper explores how young people learn to employ the subjunctive as a way of making interpretations and moving towards decisions, pretending to be in control, postponing decisions, keeping options open, trying to figure the future.

When a skeleton is all that is left

Author: Anne Line Dalsgård (Aarhus University)  email
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Long Abstract

In the poorer areas of Recife, Northeast Brazil, the dead are buried in two tempi. First the corpus is placed in a preliminary tomb and left to decompose for a year. Then bones are removed from the tomb and one of two things happens: either they are put to rest in a family grave or, if the family cannot afford a proper grave, they are put to anonymous rest in a common pile, or as people say, thrown away. Relatives are often present when the bones are removed from the preliminary tomb and hence they are fully aware of facts and the direct link between death and (in)dignity. Based on research among youth in a low-income neighbourhood in Recife, this paper describes life as stretched out been disillusion and a sometimes desperate trust in chance. At stake is not only comfort and happiness, but also the future end of your life and hence the conclusion of your story.

Representing possible futures: Organizational planning as the re-making of reality

Author: Trenholme Junghans (University of Cambridge)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper reflects on a particularly "modern" practice of doubling and the generation of parallel worlds: organizational planning, or the technique of simulating possible future states in order to anticipate and control potential outcomes. Although such practices are fundamental to organizing in the industrialized world (in the guise of rational planning, risk management, etc.), they have largely escaped ethnographic attention as a variety of ritual performance. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in healthcare settings, and drawing upon organization theory and semiotics, I will explore some of the representational practices associated with the envisaging of possible futures, and the means by which they generate intelligible horizons of possibility and necessity, and guide practice in ways that mask the radical contingency and indeterminacy of human action. In conclusion I suggest that planning can be viewed as a performative remaking of reality which projectively erases the contingent conditions of its own possibility.

Honda Future Neo GT: motorbikes, men and mobility in urban Vietnam

Author: Marie Braemer (AU Aarhus University)  email
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Long Abstract

In Vietnam economic reforms has brought new financially opportunities as well as uncertainties and disparities for many people. With momentum in motorbikes, the predominant mode of personal transport in Vietnam, this paper investigates how urban disadvantaged men imagine their futures and how to get there. Motorbikes are symbols of both monetized and motorized power, machines that embody the promise of autonomy and freedom of movement associated with market economy. I argue that the motorbike in the lives of young men embody a specific link to ´the subjunctive´ and that the motorbike more than anything else is associated with social (upward) mobility and directionality toward a hoped for future. Precisely because of their mobility, flexibility, visibility and even vulnerability, motorbikes are such an instructive agent for understanding both a transformative Vietnamese urban landscape and the people who move within.

Back to the future: representing town and village in popular music culture in Gulu, Northern Uganda

Author: Nanna Schneidermann (University of Cape Town)  email
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Long Abstract

Relocating the population from refugee camps and urban centres to rural villages is presented as a positive move towards 'rehabilitation' after the war in Northern Uganda in public discourse, dominated by NGOs and government interventions. Moral decay, lack of social relationships and respect and unhealthy living conditions charaterises town-life, while the village-life is a return to family values, health and activities which generate respect in families and individuals. But for young urbanites 'going back' is not always a straight forward move.

'Town' and 'village' have become politicised social spaces where different discourses of the future, 'forward' and 'backward', modernity, and social respect intersect.

This paper explores the representations of the subjunctive in town and village by young singers and musical producers in Gulu town.

Another Yugoslavia, another Malaysia: new global futures and impossibility of politics

Author: Deborah Durham (Sweet Briar College)  email
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Long Abstract

Doing research in Botswana, then later in Turkey, I was struck by the frequency with which people compared their countries' trajectory with that of other countries. This paper explores the sense of commensurability of national futures of decline, war, and political failure in contexts in which local effective political action seems impossible.

Transforming hope: from empty time in Sierra Leone to full time in Iraq

Author: Maya Mynster Christensen (University of Copenhagen)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper addresses the question of what happens to the experience of time when future aspirations are broken as a result of crisis.

In Sierra Leone, it is a common saying that 'time and tide wait for no man'. Whereas the powerful 'big man' is in a position to control time, and to adjust his expectations and planning in relation to the forthcoming, youth generally experience to be stuck, or lost, in time. As such, time is experienced as empty; as a temporal void that has to be filled. But as this paper shows, time experienced as suspense does not simply destroy potentialities - it also generates powerful fantasies and dream-like horizons.

With point of departure in the recruitment of ex-combatants from Sierra Leone to secure military-strategic sites in Iraq, the paper analyses how hope - and hopelessness - transforms during the experience of moving from empty time to full time.

Anomic anticipations: imagination and action in a context of crisis

Author: Filippo Bertoni (Aarhus University)  email
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Long Abstract

In 2008/09 an "Anomalous Wave", as the student protest called itself, flooded Italy; the events took place within an anomic period of widespread socio-political crisis, worsened by the financial breakdown of world markets. Weaved within the complex fabric and layers of crises, the lives of the students who partook in the movement risked their own 'presence' and meaning in the socio-political unmaking of their (educational, relational, occupational) expectations. From such a critical context, new imagined futures emerged, scattering possibilities and breaching the predictable with a wide 'space of possibility'. My contribution explores the hopes of Bologna University students, the practices they fostered, the worldviews that oriented them and the subjunctive and uchronic 'contaminations' that can affect the ethnographer and his theoretical skeletons in periods of crisis: a re-directioning of ethnographic knowledge, I suggest, that casts light on the connections between imagination, knowledge production and action in a context of crisis.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.