EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination
Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010
Imagination, crisis and hope, or, do futures have a future?
Location John Hume Lecture Theatre 3
Date and Start Time 25 Aug, 2010 at 11:30
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?
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.
Immanence vs. revolution, or why there is no hope (or is there?)
This paper considers the problem of critical thought and revolutionary action as "models of/for" society.
Crises inspire analysis of, and defamiliarisation of, sociocultural doxa. But since even analytical reflection is a form of social action, even critical thought is haunted by its own social forms, and can't help but be taken as a possible embodiment of utopia - that is, as a model of and for alternatives.
Thus, for revolutionary Marxism, there is the problem of the Party, and for anti-authoritarian and anti-statist movements, the temptation or desire to create miniature "heavens on Earth," and for all, there is the tyranny of Utopian desire, the attempt to create a perfect image of the future. Meanwhile, established power can point to the poverty or absurdity of these attempts, as evidence that "there are no alternatives."
Drawing upon both the hostorical and ethnographic records of activism, this paper looks for alternatives to the Utopian dilemma, the ways that critical thought and action may forestall or de-center images of what could be.
Catching a glimpse of the future: on the imaginative effects of direct action
Is there a paralysis of imagination on the left? Based on fieldwork among left radical activists in Northern Europe, this paper will discuss the form imagination takes during two direct actions:
At NATO's 60th anniversary summit in Strasbourg clashes developed between activists and police. The paper will describe a moment in which a group of activists is kettled (police jargon for an interim imprisonment) while blockading the summit. Activists are physically compressed between several lines of French and German riot police, and the compressed bodies momentarily become site of a different world.
The second action is a routine dumpster-dive to forage for food that has been disposed of by a Supermarket in Copenhagen. The paper will describe the spark-like experience of being able to reconfigure daily life that emerges in the context of dumpstering for food.
Seen from within the dumpster and from the perspective of the compressed bodies, imagination cannot be considered free-floating fantasy (Graeber 2009). In this light, the paper will engage with a recent critique of the concept of imagination and its employment in anthropology (Sneath et. al. 2009). Imagination of the future is understood as an effect elicited, but not fully conditioned by, bodily technologies or styles. This suggests that imaginary effects do not need to amount to a whole and if so, then, only momentarily. I will argue that the disjuncture between the present and the future and the glimpse-like quality of imagination is an ontological feature of political action among left radical activists.
Stubbornness and utopian politics in contemporary French universities
Drawing on my ongoing dissertation fieldwork on French universities, I aim to analyze the way that faculty activists, protesting the Sarkozy government's market-oriented university reforms, sustain their political hopes long after the political situation has turned against them. After massive university strikes ended in government victory in 2009, a small group, the "Infinite Rounds of the Stubborn," continued to hold weekly vigils before the Ministry. Here I will trace how this group maintains its commitment to meet week after week in the face of changing institutional situations and internal doubts. I will argue that this case demands that we take stubbornness seriously as one possible utopian project: faced with a seemingly triumphant wave of neoliberal reforms, this group has simply refused to give up. For them, and herein the broader lesson, utopian hope lies above all in collective remobilization: for them, utopian ideas appear secondary to utopian social forms.
'Bike every day, celebrate it once a month.' Critical Mass, sustainable urban mobility, and the importance of social articulations
Critical Mass is a worldwide urban movement which has developed along the last two decades as a promotion of bicycle in cities. Its most frequent public expression is through spontaneous meetings of cyclists once per month in such a manner that the motorized flow is interrupted. What is striking about it is that any of those meetings requires a specific social organization and adaptation to the particular characteristics of the city. Hence, the straight proposal of these activists in favor of sustainable urban mobility must deal with particular social and urban issues. Our research is focused on the city of Madrid, one of the Spanish cities where this collective action is the best known and the most crowded (average of 1,500 cyclists every call). Every meeting gathers a wide diverse range of people who daily use bicycle and now have a regular date where to interact, have fun, reshape their meanings about urban space, and manifest their demands for a more bicycle-friendly city.
Jokes and their relation to crisis
Work is one of the most important virtues in most religious, political, and value systems. According to Weber, development of capitalism in the West was influenced by the Protestant ethics and its idea that wealth as a result of one's work was a sign of God's grace. On the other hand, socialist ideology claimed that work was a part of human nature. The new socialist citizen, a prerequisite of human emancipation, was expected to work for the benefit of the whole society. So how did he or she approach work? "So that others could approach it, too!"
The paper draws upon a micro study of folk jokes that circulated among people during the era of late socialism in former Czechoslovakia. It focuses on jokes that ridiculed work as a virtue and moral value and discuses their subversive aspect. The paper shows that the jokes reflected the crisis of the collapsing political regime rather than people's laziness.
Compassion and confrontation: new horizons of human development, social transformations and planetary realizations
We are at a cross-road now in both theory and practice. We witness increased violence as a mode of conflict settlement. In this context of crisis of practice and imagination we need new ways of thinking about and addressing conflicts. In my paper I present outline of a new theory of conflict transformation which can be called compassionate confrontation. It builds upon transformations in both compassion and confrontation as modes of thinking, being and intersubjectivity. It builds upon reflections on compassion from traditions such as Buddhism as well as evolutionary theories of savants such as Peter Kropotkin and Sri Aurobindo. It also builds upon my fieldwork on global justice movements such as Attac in Europe where confrontative dialogue is an important mode of reflection and practice. The paper submits that compassionate confrontation can help us reconstitute human development, contribute to social transformations and facilitate planetary realizations.
Aspirational politics with the state? An example from the British working class
This paper discusses the withdrawal of many British working class people from democratic politics as a reaction to their wider experiences of the welfare state. Much current commentary has analysed problems of political apathy and disenchantment among the British working class as resulting from people's exclusion from the wider political and economic system. In doing so, attention has often been deflected from the intimate ways in which many working class people have come to rely on the welfare state, and its agencies, in their everyday lives, calling on it to secure material entitlements as well as to mobilise and pass judgement on relationships they engage in beyond the official sphere. This paper suggests that such uses of the welfare state can be seen as an impromptus way of enacting a political sociality whose logic is often opposed to, and in conflict with, that of democratic narratives. While such conflict produces multifaceted experiences of the self and the state, this paper shows how it ultimately compromises the potential of any aspirational politics of the working class.
‘You need people, everyone needs people’: resilience, resourcefulness and the ‘struggle for life’ in Macedonia
The pressures brought on by unrealistic and unrealisable targets to construct an ideal democratic (corruption-free) polity, free market and the perpetual pressure to reconsider the name of their state has taken its toll on the people in Macedonia who have to negotiate through the minefields of life brought on by poverty and economic deprivation on a daily basis. These pressures have led to much disengagement, apathy, deviance and self-indulgence. Nonetheless, perhaps because of this, Macedonians as a cultural or ethnic grouping have developed particular ways of engaging with the world, constructing a worldview in which ‘struggle for life’ is normalised- to be expected not only because others do not want to recognise or acknowledge how you see yourself to be, but just importantly because of their own ‘nature’, compelling a particular way of approaching self and relations within and amongst the people themselves as central to survival. That is, prolonged and ongoing crisis, be it existential or not, draws out creative and imaginative ways of dealing with life, compels resilience and resourcefulness and the reliance of others. As Macedonians say ‘You need people’ and it is sociality and reliance on networks of relations that draws out imaginative or creative solutions that cannot be easily found in formal systems and structures.
The faith in development: the case of Polish involvement in Africa
For decades the promise of development has been put forward but was it actually ever achieved? In this paper I want to examine the case of Polish engagement in development in Africa. How the state and various communities which for decades have themselves been subjected to development, today, via their own involvement as donors claim ownership not only over their own development but also present visions of change and better future for Others.
After the Cold War era, and the years of expulsion to the margins of the global politics, the development seems to work as a way back to the international arena. The visions of the global solidarity and connectivity are at heart of this modern faith in development. Yet, to fulfil new aspirations the "subjects of development" and the development itself need to be (re)discovered. It is exactly here when the anticipation and fantasy become the most crucial.
Hope stronger than anguish: timber traders imagining the future in times of crisis
Recent fieldwork in the highlands of Romania brought me to a village of "non-complainers" set in the midst of a mass of postsocialist "complainers". Living by selling timber for construction, in all parts of the country, they are being dramatically affected by the global economic crisis. Recent elections as well as environmental regulations may threaten their trade as well. Despite the crisis and looming changes, they are serene: "nobody will starve here". I shall explore how they envision their future in relation to their economy. How do we explain their optimism? What makes hope stronger than anguish?
e-paper Hope and oil: managing the future in the Gulf of Guinea
A dominant scholarly discourse now used to describe the profound crises triggered by natural resources - particularly oil - is the theory of the 'resource curse'. In this view, rather than bringing prosperity, resources pose a problem of governance. Institutions, transparency and a change in political culture are offered as solutions. Drawing on material from Sao Tome e Principe, a potentially oil-rich African island state, this paper critically inquires about the validity and power of such expert models as imagination of the future. STP has been converted into an economic experiment, exemplary among its oil-rich neighbours. In this process, Santomeans' hopes regarding oil became a key object of concern. Hopes are to be tamed to render them less dangerous. Hopes, however, have histories; hopes persist - beyond the moment of deconstruction; hopes spring up anew - as attempts to control people's expectations generate other kinds hopes. Hopes also risk disappointment. The question my research grapples with is: What happens next?
This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.