ANTH 8810-1: Futures will be taught by David Valentine Spring 2011 on Wednesdays from 2:30-5:00 p.m. in 389 Hubert H. Humphrey Center. This class is a reading of modernity through temporality, in particular, looking at how modern (and/or postmodern) subjects conceive of, theorize about, abandon, and attempt to shape "the future."
ANTH 8810-1: Futures
Is the passage of time equivalent to "progress"? This class is a reading of modernity through temporality, in particular, looking at how modern (and/or postmodern) subjects conceive of, theorize about, abandon, and attempt to shape "the future." The plural of the course title points to the multiplicity of futures that humans are able to imagine, but at the same time a basic contention of the course is that the very practice of imagining futures already shapes the possibilities of what futures can emerge. That is, imagining futures is a social practice with consequences, and as such is a political act.
The 21st century has been imagined in popular culture and academic discourses as a time of both dystopic and eutopic futures. Many of the things that 20th century commentators were concerned about or hoped for - cyborgs, radical gender/sexual difference, the spread of liberal democracies, radical individualism, technologically enhanced bodies, the formation of superstates like the EU, space travel, environment disasters - have come to pass. Yet at the same time, we live in a present that seems to be characterized by what we are told belongs to the past - religious fundamentalism, racism, massive world-wide poverty, sectarian wars, new imperialisms, and the reassertion of "tradition" and neoliberal modes of capitalism. In a moment that is supposed to have been "the future," then, how do social actors account for their own present, and what do they make of the futures yet to come?
Anthropology, with its roots in a socially-conscious anti-racism, consciously directed at producing a better future, is a rich location from which to consider how Western intellectuals have thought about temporality, progress, and the future. While we will read ethnography, much of the reading may (see below) include popular media and texts from other disciplines, bringing an anthropological perspective to such diverse objects as manifestos, cyborgs and species distinction, dystopias and eutopias, feminisms, religious and economic fundamentalism, "cargo cults," aliens, imperialism, risk assessment, meteorology, Star Trek, modernist architecture. Our concern is to look at how people have imagined the future, what those futures look like, and what the consequences of such imaginings are.
The course syllabus will be co-constructed over the course of the semester in order to test one of our hypotheses: does the messy social labor of constructing an activity come to look, from the vantage point of the future, as a smooth story of progress? Course writing will include writing a prophecy, a prediction, and a manifesto.