ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

Maintaining the future? On post-cold war practices and politics of the future
Location Science Site/Engineering E101
Date and Start Time 04 July, 2016 at 14:00
Sessions 2


  • Felix Ringel (Durham University) email
  • Dace Dzenovska (University of Oxford) email

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Discussant Rebecca Bryant (London School of Economics)

Short Abstract

This panel invites ethnographic explorations of maintaining, enduring and sustaining as practices and politics of the future. How are these practices related to currently widespread insecurities, as well as the absence of legitimate grand narratives that promise to overcome the oppressive present?

Long Abstract

In search for alternative political and analytical pathways into the future, anthropologists have experimented with a variety of ethnographically derived analytical concepts. Concepts such as hope, emergence and alternative lifeworlds figure prominently in contemporary anthropological thought. Our ethnographic work, however, has led us to use terms that seem less promissory, even conservative: maintaining, enduring, sustaining. And yet, they suggest new pathways into the future, namely those that hold the possibility of the future open through preventing decay or ruination in the present.

This panel invites papers that critically explore different pathways into the future in the post-Cold War era. Without being restricted to the literature on post-socialism, we invite papers to explore how and why "muddling through" emerges as a response to deeply felt insecurities. Why do practices, politics and analytics of maintaining, enduring and sustaining emerge as salient in this particular historical moment? What kind of urban and rural futures are "prefigured" in them, producing what kind of uneven geographies? How are such practices, politics and analytics shaped by the absence of other meta-narratives, such as socialism, which have historically offered an alternative imaginary for Western left and postcolonial elites?

Proposed contributions should provide detailed ethnographic analyses of new sites, practices and subjects of politics, whilst at the same time reflect upon the analytical tools at hand to understand these practices of, and politics towards, the future. We see this as an invitation to being stuck, yet again, in the future - and thereby maintain the present differently.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Sustainability / Maintenance / Endurance: reconfiguring progressive politics in the post-industrial era

Author: Felix Ringel (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

Different times evoke different relations to the future. Most recent additions look discouragingly conservative: sustaining, maintaining, enduring describe processes that look like preventing change rather than provoking it. But what if they created an otherwise that looks radically like the present?

Long Abstract

During the last decades, new tropes for imagining the future have emerged. At first sight, they look discouragingly conservative: sustaining, maintaining, enduring all describe processes that look like they are aimed at preventing change rather than provoking it. However, should we not also take those conserving practices into account as radically progressive alternatives for imagining the future in times of post-industrial shrinkage and decline? If so, what kind of futures do they help us and our informants to envision? And do these futures necessarily have to be 'otherwise' - and otherwise with regards to what: the state of the present or the doomed, dystopian expectations of worse futures? Based on material from Germany's poorest city, a prototype post-industrial city, I explore my informant's seemingly meagre and disappointing attempts of stabilizing their present. Hit by a series of post-industrial crises since the mid-1970s, the citizens and officials of this North German habour city have over the last decade tried to build up a fully sustainable economy, and to become a Climate City. This transformation has been stagnant over the last five years. Recently finished economic, ecological and social infrastructures already turn out to be less sustainable than expected, requiring yet further investments. Similarly, recent tourist attractions already face closure due to dwindling visitor number. Has the future-city-making failed? Against which other potential past and present futures can we assess this maintained effort of urban revitalisation? And does our current analytic toolkit suffice for that?

Keeping the road open: waiting, migrating and the domestication of hope in rural Kyrgyzstan

Author: Madeleine Reeves (University of Manchester)  email

Short Abstract

Through an ethnography of ‘staying behind’ in the context of protracted out-migration for work, this paper enquires into the material and political conditions for the possibilities of future hope, and the ways that such hope is ‘domesticated’ in contexts of state withdrawal.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the relationship between waiting, leaving, house-building and hope in the context of contemporary Kyrgyz transnational migration. In rural Kyrgyzstan, despite the very real hardship that is recognised to accompany migration and the ever-present risk of deportation, migration has come to be seen as the necessary precondition for a properly future-oriented existence. The paper focuses on two strategies central to this practical and imaginative work of 'keeping the road open': house-building, particularly for newly-married sons, and 'doing up a passport' (passport kyluu): that is, the purchase of Russian passport and the (official, at least) revocation of one's Kyrgyzstani citizenship. Such strategies, I suggest, point to a paradox at the heart of contemporary Kyrgyzstani migration: the vast majority of my interlocutors spoke of labour migration in Russia as a temporary process that would ultimately create the conditions for meaningful family life in Kyrgyzstan. Yet such possibilities are increasingly seen to be contingent, not just upon a potentially indefinite period of work far from home, but on a displacement of political membership: the ceding of Kyrgyzstani citizenship in favour of the Russian citizenship that protects against the risk of deportation. Critically engaging the workshop's call to explore strategies of endurance and maintenance as 'alternative analytical pathways into the future', this paper enquires into the material and political conditions for the possibilities of future hope, and the ways that such hope is 'domesticated' in contexts of state withdrawal.

Endurance and the present's future after postsocialism

Author: Dace Dzenovska (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

Despite talking about the death of the countryside, Latvia's rural residents work to maintain life as a particular articulation of social relations, material environment and landscape. I analyse these practices as a form of agency that does not strive for radical change, but rather for more of the same.

Long Abstract

When I conducted fieldwork on outmigration in rural Latvia from 2010 until 2012, many rural residents told me that the countryside was emptying and dying. Indeed, there were fewer people, fewer services, fewer schools and many empty and deteriorating buildings in the Latvian countryside. However, at the same time as rural residents were talking about emptiness and death, they were labouring to maintain life as a particular articulation of social relations, landscape and material environment.

In this paper, I show how those who live in the Latvian countryside work to maintain life, thus also making the future as a little bit more of the present. I analyse these practices of making life and future as endurance, that is, as a form of agency that does not strive for radical change, but rather for more of the same (Ringel 2014). I am particularly interested in how this form of agency gets coopted in the aftermath of the financial crisis that hit Latvia in 2008. I therefore focus on the tension between endurance as perseverance in the face of adverse conditions and endurance as a tool of government that co-opts people's capacity for survival. While ethnographically located in Latvia, the paper links up with other people in other places who experience life as nothingness (Dunn 2014), as being stuck (Hage 2009) or as not moving well enough (Jansen 2014). I consider what kind of critique of the present and its futures opens up through analysis of endurance, stuckedness, nothingness or immobility.

Pastoralism and the making of futures in post-socialist Mongolia

Author: Joseph Bristley (UCL)  email

Short Abstract

This paper traces how different temporalities of the future emerge in relation to post-socialist Mongolian pastoral practices: poised between an expansive sense of continuity with the past, and the immediacy of the ‘collapsed futures’ (Nielsen 2014) of those forced into herding when socialism ended.

Long Abstract

A salient feature of post-socialist Mongolian life is the (re)emergence of subsistence pastoralism as a form of economic activity. Drawing on long-term fieldwork in a rural area of central Mongolia, this paper explores how specific post-socialist temporalities of the future emerge in relation to this way of life. In this paper, I outline a widely held Mongolian ideology of wealth in animals, and analyse how this is amplified through the transmission of animals between different generations. In doing so, I trace a sense of futurity as embedded in a complex seriality linking it to the past: something that contrasts starkly with the future-oriented teleology of socialist modernity (Ssorin-Chaikov 2006). However, this expansive sense of futurity co-exists with the 'collapsed futures' (Nielsen 2014) of those forced into subsistence herding after state socialism ended in the early 1990s. Through this analysis of different perspectives onto pastoralism and the diverse subjects it produces, I reveal the heterogeneity of perceptions of the future in a post-socialist society.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.