Progress’ Time: The Individualization of the Future in Southeast Angola
Until recently, southeast Angola was known as “the lands at the end of the world.” In the last four years, however, the region started to be under the government’s spotlight, and now bears the slogan “the lands of progress.” The implementation of new public infrastructures is essential in the shifting of representations. Accordingly, since the end of the civil war, in 2002, infrastructures of communication and transportation have become the visible side of the national effort to (re)construct and unify the nation around a common ideal: “One People, One Nation.” Drawing on anthropological fieldwork done in the last two years, I intend to approach the effects of the agency generated by the interaction between the new asphalt road EN140 and the residents of a village in southeast Angola. Against the political imagination promoted since the country’s independence, such an interaction agency reconfigured and introduced a new language of time in the region; from a socially repressed past, a present of crisis, to privatized versions of liberated futures found on restless quest for self-fulfilment. As I intend to demonstrate, the perpetual deferrals of social progress promised by the government have led to the emancipatory privatization of the future. This new emancipatory individual politics of time contradicts not only the demagogic propaganda by the government around the ideal of national commonness but also the scientific sustainability discourse that started populating the country, and which relies on a homogeneous conception of time to legitimize itself: “Our Common Future.” Southeast Angola shows how the individuation of the future has become one of the most conspicuous unintended causalities of our increasing networked world.
I hold a PhD in Social Anthropology from the Martin Luther University, Germany. I’m currently a lecturer and researcher in the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology, at the University of Hamburg. My main research and theoretical interests are (key words) political ecology, progress, Africa, (de)commodification, and tourism.
“Homo Ludens, Meet Homo Faber”: Hope, Power, and Resources in the African Post-Colony.
In my ethnographic fieldwork in São Tomé and Príncipe (STP), a small African Atlantic island state and former Portuguese colony, I frequently encountered the notion that “Santomeans do not work.” This assertion had particular weight in the light of impending offshore oil production. Excessive expectations and so-called rent seeking, taking the place of productive labour, were feared to be the inappropriate responses to future wealth. The hope for “unearned” wealth and prosperity, more generally, has come to be seen as a problem in many post-colonial settings shaped by resource extraction, but this problem has remained remarkably unquestioned. This paper does two things. First, it examines the widespread efforts by international agencies to manage expectations and channel hope in STP, for example, through public awareness campaigns and civil society building. I argue that the politics of anticipation implemented, here, seeks to effect a particular kind of temporal disposition toward oil decidedly different from the “hopeful” practices of ordinary and not-so-ordinary Santomeans. Second, I show that in order to fully comprehend the problem of hope in STP, and specifically of hope as practical engagement between people, resources and the non-human world, we need to trace its historical antecedents. I suggest that the methodological response to the Santomean problem of hope should be not psychology, sociology, or economics but ontological critique. Freed slaves refusing plantation labour and citizens destroying crops intended to support the population of a newly independent state seem to express forms of agency (through rejection or spoilage) and temporal affects (hope but also dejection) specific to different extractive environments. My analysis draws on critical temporalities and anthropology to tease out the emergent orientations in time – time experienced not neutrally but always suffused by power – across these colonial and postcolonial moments.
Gisa Weszkalnys is lecturer in anthropology at the London School of Economics. She has conducted research on natural resource development, interdisciplinary research practices, and the cultural politics of urban planning. Her books include Berlin, Alexanderplatz: Transforming Place in a Unified Germany (2010) and Elusive Promises: Planning in the Contemporary World (2013, coedited with Simone Abram). Her current work examines the temporality and materiality of oil exploitation in the Gulf of Guinea.
Keywords: politics of anticipation, hope, materiality, natural resources, temporal affects
My fieldsite Hoyerswerda, Germany’s fastest shrinking city, is known as a city with “no hope” and “no future”. However, what at first looks like the failed transition of a former socialist model city hit by a neo-liberally orchestrated globalization soon provides the context for an unexpected variety of experiences of – and relations to – many different pasts and futures. Indeed, multiple temporal connotations structure local conflicts and their passionate social negotiation. This presentation tracks how some local groups successfully challenge the local government’s “enforced presentism”. Most importantly, in their strive for reclaiming the future, these groups do not replace this neo-liberal “enforced presentism” with some form of “enforced futurism”. Rather, they conceptually open up a space beyond shrinkage and its widely felt and feared social, economic and political repercussions. With the help of my ethnographic material, I show how citizens of Hoyerswerda in their everyday socio-cultural practices thus overcome both, the temporal regime of the post-socialist transformation and the temporal order of neo-liberalism. I posit several examples of their multiple and conflicting temporal practices as indicative of a surprising flexibility in the way my informants through their knowledge practices exist – and reach out – in time. Whilst developing the category of “creative presentism”, I provide a thoroughly anthropological view on time. Through the lens of the currently emerging anthropology of the future, I conceptualise time as a theoretical, analytical and methodological issue of knowledge, which in turn is understood less as culture and more as situated and locally relevant practice. I particularly attend what currency hope and the future, rather than the past, have in local concerns and in human life more generally. As my approach tries to account for the variety of human temporal relations, it will also critically engage with the sometimes misleading term of temporality.
I have recently gained my PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge, for which I undertook 16 months of fieldwork in the East German city of Hoyerswerda, Germany's fastest shrinking city. As a post-doctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Vienna, I continue to work on the issues of knowledge and time. My primary research focus is on how people envision the future once it has been rendered problematic in times of dramatic demographic and socio-economic change. I will soon commence research on the relation between the notion of sustainability and urban regeneration of post-industrial cities in Europe.
Cottonopolis Chronotope – Lessons from a Cinesonic Loom
Deleuze posits in The Fold (1988), that history, arriving through rupture rather than continuity, is like a loom, with its warp and weft and sudden break of threads by ‘an accumulation of forces and timings’. Shamji Vishram, Kutch master weaver, says ‘the powerloom has only one song, it tires the mind...but in handloom if you stop, you might be playing for a while and the mind freshens…sometimes the design and count change the sound and this is a voice for the handloom’ (interview, 2012). The loom is a powerful symbol of craft and village as much as work, city, and imperialism, with a specific temporal choreography defined by factory or workshop locale. The feature documentary Cottonopolis (Greenhalgh, 2012), considers power, time and agency in the manufacture of powerloom and handloom cotton in contemporary India, through the reflections and consciousness of people from “Manchesters”. Expressing this complex film fabric required texturing a cinesonic chronotope and an aesthetic mirroring affective relations with cotton processes. In this sensory ethnographic historiography, time exists within the stories of individuals: cyclical, progressive, sacred, ancestral, historical, traumatic, meditative, memory, machinic, digital, crafted, spontaneous, creative, political, economic…time. Naficy (2001) suggests filmed chronotopes are ‘organizing centres’, involving the ‘human sensorium and memory…temporality often structures feeling’. “Cottonopolis” (Manchester’s old nickname) is still there as a “state of mind”, for impressions of the “great industry that once was” mingle feelings of pride and loss for textile city inhabitants and descendents. Whilst Manchester’s decline and rising mill heritage took several decades, re-industrializing cotton cities, such as Ahmedabad (Gujarat) and Lodz (Poland) discard and recycle, reinvent and rebrand, displace migrants and outsource skills at alarming speed. For this short talk, a film sequence and description of filming weavers and looms will encapsulate different temporalities and suggest ways we might rethink the importance of allowing a “variety of time” in life experience.
Cathy is Principal Lecturer; Film, Sound and Television Programme, Media Faculty, London College of Communication, University of the Arts London. Originally working as a cinematographer in the film industry, Cathy has produced a long term ethnography with feature film cinematographers and directs and shoots films with elements of choreography, animation, ethnography and documentary for cinema, gallery and museum spaces. Her interests and publications centre on collaborative and interdisciplinary creativity, filmmaking practices and communities of practice, cinematographic phenomena and aesthetics, textiles and colour, performativity and narrative.
Time, Affect and Suicidal Microbes.
According to Jacques Derrida, in the tradition of Western philosophy nonhuman animals don’t have ‘time’. Temporality, which Martin Heidegger associates with auto-affection – giving oneself a presence, would be an exclusive human characteristic. Without access to knowledge and an experience of death as such, animals don’t die; they merely perish, according to Heidegger. Given these assumptions it may not be surprising that until recently marine microbes such as unicellular phytoplankton have been considered immortal unless eaten by predators. Concerns about global climate change however have spurred new research into the lives and ecologies of marine microbes and especially into their potentially beneficial role as carbon dioxide consumers. Assumptions about their atemporal existence are currently in the process of revision. Marine biologists in fact suggest that under specific conditions phytoplankton actively kill themselves. Drawing on new empirical research into programmed cell death in microbes, I explore how an affirmation of phytoplankton’s mortality may reconstruct the relationship between life and death, biological individuality and assumptions about a “natural” teleology. In multicellular animal bodies cell death is associated with a purpose; some individual cells must die in order to keep the organism alive. As long as individual cells are considered parts of a larger system, the organism, their deaths seems to make sense in evolutionary terms. But why would unicellular phytoplankton actively kill themselves? Assuming that microbial populations are composed of competing, selfish individuals, these research findings cease to make sense. Reading this research together with the Derridean move from autoaffection, which forms the basis of selfhood in humans and cells towards heteroaffection that recognizes that death is always internal to life and the ‘other’ always already part of the ‘self’, I explore how the deconstruction of individuality from within biology may suggests alternatives to our anthropocentric notion of time and affectivity in scientific knowledge production.
Astrid Schrader is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Anthropology and STS at York University in Toronto, Canada. She received her PhD in History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz, upon completing her dissertation “Dino & Demons: The Politics of Temporality and Responsibility in Science”. Since then, Astrid spent a year as postdoctoral fellow at the Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women at Brown University and has been teaching in the Science, Technology, and Society Program at Sarah Lawrence College for the last three years. Astrid’s recent research in Feminist Science Studies has focused on the scientific investigation of toxic marine microorganisms and the environmental problems these ‘harmful algae’ are said to cause. With the help of toxic dinoflagellates, feminist philosopher Karen Barad’s theoretical framework of agential realism and the philosophy of Jacques Derrida, Astrid has been exploring questions of responsibility and agency in scientific knowledge production, new ontologies, the relationship between anthropocentrism and conceptions of time, and environmental justice. Her research has been published in the journals of Social Studies of Science, Environmental Philosophy, and differences (forthcoming). In addition, Astrid has just completed co-editing (with Sophia Roosth) a special issue of the journal differences titled “Feminist Theory out of Science” (to appear in this Fall) that seeks to highlight how close attention to the materialities of scientific practices may inform feminist theories.
from our workshop on Power, Time and Agency held in Manchester, January 2013