Thursday, October 3, 2019

Futures at AAACASCA 2019

The American Anthropological Association/ Canadian Anthropological Society meeting in Vancouver is in November, but the browsable schedule is already out.  As in previous years, I have identified future-oriented or science fiction-oriented panels that I would love to attend (including two I'm on). This may not be a complete list, and I apologize for panels I've missed.  But even this, incomplete as it might be, is an impressive collection of a robust future-orientation in the work of anthropologists. 

Thursday, November 21

8:00 AM – 9:45 AM  –  Decolonial Belongings and Futures: Creating Spaces of Belonging thru Epistemic Disobedience - Vancouver CC EAST, Room 7
2:00 PM – 3:45 PM  –  Biofutures - Vancouver CC WEST, Room 122
2:00 PM – 3:45 PM  –  Haunting Toward the Future: Colonial Durabilities and Temporalities - Vancouver CC EAST, Room 13
2:00 PM – 3:45 PM  –  Untaming futures? Plural knowledges, unknown environments and technologies of anticipation (Part 1) - Vancouver CC WEST, Room 202
4:15 PM – 6:00 PM  –  In an Atmosphere of Change: Speculative Futures in Anthropological Perspective - Vancouver CC WEST, Room 118
4:15 PM – 6:00 PM  –  NARRATING THE FUTURE FOR A WARMING WORLD - Vancouver CC WEST, Room 205
4:15 PM – 6:00 PM  –  Untaming futures? Plural knowledges, unknown environments and technologies of anticipation (Part 2) - Vancouver CC WEST, Room 202

Friday, November 22

10:15 AM – 12:00 PM  –  Utopia and Changing the Future: Anthropology’s Role in Imagining Alternatives (Part 1) - Vancouver CC EAST, Room 11

2:00 PM – 3:45 PM  –  The Climate of Governance and the Governance of Climate: Negotiating the Futures of Natures & Cultures - Vancouver CC EAST, Room 15
2:00 PM – 3:45 PM  –  Utopia and Changing the Future: Anthropology’s Role in Imagining Alternatives (Part 2) - Vancouver CC EAST, Room 11
4:15 PM – 6:00 PM  –  Horizons of Possibility: Dynamic Future Selves in a Changing and Contested World - Vancouver CC WEST, Room 115

Saturday, November 23

8:00 AM – 9:45 AM  –  Algorithmic Futures: Computing as a Site and Object of Technopolitical Interventions - Vancouver CC WEST, Room 301
8:00 AM – 9:45 AM  –  Forging Futures in Contested Landscapes - Vancouver CC WEST, Room 215
10:15 AM – 12:00 PM  –  Forecasting Futures: Education as Speculative Practice - Vancouver CC WEST, Room 119
10:15 AM – 12:00 PM  –  So many futures, so little time: Anthropological approaches to catastrophe and the future - Vancouver CC EAST, Ballroom C
4:15 PM – 6:00 PM  –  Ethnographies of Palestinian Futures - Vancouver CC WEST, Room 204

Sunday, November 24

10:15 AM – 12:00 PM  –  Geological Anthropology: Waters, Ruins, Futures (Part 2) - Vancouver CC WEST, Room 101 & 102

The Meaning of the Future

Yet there is a great deal of polysemy implied in "the future," and our orientation to future temporalities likewise varies (Bryant and Knight 2019).  I did some text analysis of the abstracts for these panels in order to look at the evolving terrain of future work [click on the graph for the full size]:


The graph uses "Infranodus,"a web-based, text analysis application that uses word co-occurence to construct a network.  Nodes are key terms, and the edges (or lines) between them show words (actually lemmas) separated by 1 word or words separated by two words (Paranyushkin 2019).

Additionally, the algorithm tries to identify "clusters" of terms--represented by different colored nodes and edges here.  But this seems of limited efficacy here, where there is considerable overlap in the nomenclature of the future.  Better, perhaps, is to focus on a few key terms, and the terms to which they're linked.

"Environmental" [click on the map for a full image of the network]




These keywords, together with the connections they forge, ultimately tell a more nuanced story about anthropology's emerging futures.  The lemma "world" might appear in texts as "worlding," "world-building" etc., and might point, on the one hand, to the changes inextricably impacting our world today.  On the other hand, "world" also includes links to the prospect of different worlds, however defined, whether in "space" or "imagined."  "Alternative" opens on to the imaginative element of anthropological futuring, and the ways this might gesture towards other possibilities less premised on capitalist exploitation.  This includes indigenous futures, and alternative narratives on the future from oppressed peoples.  On the other hand, "climate" brings us into the decidedly more pessimistic futures of the anthropocene, where "change," "health" and "environment" make up the dreadful calculus of environmental catastrophe.

All together, the pessimism and the optimism of the present moment, one where we teeter on the brink of future disaster, while alternatives appear to us (as anthropologists) in multiple forms, from policy changes, to space travel, to worlds re-shaped by alternatives to Eurocentric capitalist exploitation.  The future work evolving in anthropology engages all of these levels simultaneously: 1) the future as a significant horizon in the lives of our interlocutors; 2) the future as an ethnographic object in its own right; 3) the future as a site for anthropological interventions.


Bryant, Rebecca and Daniel Knight (2019).  The Anthropology of the Future.  NY: Cambridge University Press.

Paranyushkin, Dmitry (2019).  "Infranodus."  In Proceedings of WWW '19: The Web Conference (WWW '19), May 23, 2019, San Francissco, CA.  

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