I am Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester, and co-Director of the ESRC Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change (CRESC) where I covene the research theme on ‘Topologies of Social Change’ - an inter-disciplinary group interested in the politics of space, time and matter. I am currently working with Hannah Knox on an ethnography of roads in the Andean and Amazonian regions of Peru. Our almost finished book - Precarious Infrastructures - tracks the material, moral and social controversies produced by a volatile mix of engineering expertise, transnational capital and territorial politics. We are particularly interested in how road construction projects mobilise spatial and temporal imaginaries. Roads are field sites that allow for the empirical study of trans-local places that register histories of travel and of settlement, and that draw together the preoccupations and speculative investments of multilateral funders, international trade and local enterprises. Since October 2010 I have also been working on a new ethnographic project entitled Unsettling the State: Law, Engineering and Regional Government in Cusco, Peru. This is a collaborative project in a research team of six ethnographers, which I run together with Deborah Poole (Johns Hopkins University) that looks at how the ambiguities that technical and legal knowledges create and sustain are mobilised in the exercise of state power. The tropes of temporality and community are central to this work.
I’m a sociologist currently lecturing at Newcastle University. I have a background in cultural theory and an enduring interest in environmental utopianism. I’m particularly concerned with what utopian fiction can contribute to debates about better futures with nature. Seen as expressions of desire for something different and better, rather than simply structural blueprints, utopian narratives can open up critical and creative spaces for imagining otherness and social change.
The disruptive temporalities offered by utopian thinking are more necessary than ever in relation to contemporary environmental problems and politics. Dominant climate change discourses work with a limited set of temporal repertoires: rational modelling and prediction, popular catastrophism, individual techniques of carbon counting and self-discipline. In these contexts, the capacity to imagine and hope for better social-natural futures seems to be receding. The emphasis is on preserving existing social arrangements and relationships rather than responding to how notions of community might be generatively challenged by bringing nature into matters of ethics, politics and human well-being.
I hope this workshop will help develop my thinking about the powerful resources offered by utopianism, its capacity to critique the present and stimulate affective and experiential engagements with alternative temporalities and different kinds of community. And I hope to learn more about how these ideas might connect with diverse research on time and community, especially approaches that cross boundaries between the humanities and social sciences.
Educated in Russia and in England (Philosopher’s Diploma, St. Petersburg State University and PhD in Philosophy, Centre for Professional Ethics, UCLAN), Elena Fell has an insider’s view of two distinct cultures, which helps her to grasp the specificity of intercultural communication and communication between diverse communities. Elena’s research project which will explore the relationship between communities and the future (carried out jointly with Dr Johan Siebers as Principal Investigator) will naturally follow from her longstanding interest in the philosophy of time, self and communication. In her PhD thesis Elena explored Bergson’s theory of duration and prepared ground for its further development. After completing her PhD Elena has worked as a Research Assistant at the School of Journalism, Media and Communication, University of Central Lancashire. She is also Editorial Assistant for Empedocles: European Journalfor the Philosophy of Communication.
My involvement in the scoping study on Communities and Future has just began, so the workshop will be an opportunity to gain inspiration for myself and to share with others my previous research findings on time, history and selfhood.
Elena's Lightning Talk