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.
from our workshop on Power, Time and Agency held in Manchester, January 2013