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
In my lightning talk I would like to flesh out some central concerns of my PhD project. My research deals with time and temporality in contemporary literary post-apocalyptic fiction. This genre is always intertwined with discourses on time. After all, according to the Christian view – which still founds the western conception of apocalypse, no matter how secular this might have become – apocalypse equals the end of history and of time. The general argument of my thesis is, thus, that the apocalyptic imagination is temporal in its very essence and that conjuring up post-apocalyptic worlds always entails a change in the way time is conceived of. In particular, in my talk I would like to focus on how the novels I analyse often experiment with counter-narratives to the Western paradigms of linear time, history and progress. Cyclical temporalities and plots abound, and so does the phenomenon I term “temporal inversion”, namely representing the post-apocalyptic future as a return to a past state in man’s evolution. These alternative temporalities, critical of the Western classic conceptions of time, are obviously aimed at communicating a sense of apocalyptic change to the readers. However, when coupled with utopian depictions of the post-apocalyptic future, they may also contribute to foster social change. In the last part of my talk I will briefly focus on Jim Crace’s The Pesthouse (2007) as an example of how, by imagining a different temporality than the linear and progressive one, these authors afford a revelatory dimension which touches upon the contemporary world and its issues - from climate change, to excessive technologization, from inequalities to wars.
I graduated in Philosophy (MPhil) from the University of Milan, Italy, in 2010, with a dissertation on contemporary non-mimetic theories of representation. I am now a second-year PhD student in American and Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham. My research deals with time and temporality in contemporary literary post-apocalyptic fiction. It looks at texts written from the nineties onwards by authors coming from different national backgrounds – American, Canadian, British and French. The general argument of my thesis is that the apocalyptic imagination is essentially temporal and that conjuring up post-apocalyptic worlds always entails a change in the way time is conceived of. I have attended an Erasmus year at the department of Philosophy, Université Paris-Sorbonne, and an intensive programme in Critical Theory at Utrecht University. I have presented papers at BAAS (British Association for American Studies) annual conference and at the American Literature Symposium, University of Cambridge.
Key words: post-apocalyptic literature, temporality, critique of teleology, critique of the ideology of progress
from our workshop on Power, Time and Agency held in Manchester, January 2013