Imagination, crisis and hope, or, do futures have a future?

Steve Coleman (National University of Ireland)
David Graeber (LSE)
Invited workshops
John Hume Lecture Theatre 3
Start time:
25 August, 2010 at 11:30
Session slots:


This workshop queries the paralysis of the imagination confronted with global crisis. Is it normal for human beings to be unable to imagine what a better world would even be like? Crises, as imaginative constructs, always both presuppose the limitations or failures of the imagination, and also provoke re-imaginings of cultural social, economic, or natural orders. While we are well aware of the former, we still await the first signs of the latter. The current global economic crisis happened, in part, due to the (mal-)functioning of a system designed to commodify hope — to quantify and exploit the future potential of human imagination and labour. So far, for example, official responses to collapsing debt bubbles have consisted of the socialisation of private losses — in effect, to intensify and generalise debt rather than to eliminate or to construct alternatives to debt. In the post Cold-war era, collective human hopes and aspirations have become more and more limited and narrow. Economic crisis is perhaps a symptom of a more general social crisis, the failure to imagine or achieve a viable vision of a global future for humanity. Perhaps anthropology itself has not taken hope seriously, accepting far too easily "the actual" (as we perceive it) while ignoring the forms taken by the potential, the aspirational, the lost but not forgotten elements of human existence. What constrains the imagination of alternatives? What forms does this imagination take? Can we construct an anthropology of hope?