2019/20 Seminar: Futures

This year’s seminar explores questions relating to the category, broadly and creatively defined, of “future(s).”

We inhabit a moment when the very concept of future is in question. On the one hand, catastrophic discourses fueled by converging global crises envision apocalyptic ends. On the other hand, these same conditions inspire utopian and emancipatory discourses which have insisted throughout the history of aesthetic and political modernism, as they continue to insist today, that another world is possible and envision revolutionary change.

Most generally we would like to explore “future(s)” as a theoretical concept and analytic category that may help or obstruct attempts to grasp the contemporary political situation. Can we continue to use “future” in the conventional sense or should the very concept (along with its temporal and political implications) be rethought in relation to our historical conjuncture? How does an engagement with “futures past” help us to understand these struggles in the present? In the seminar we will likely engage with: the history of the concept “future”; current discourses about the future, possible futures, futurity etc.; contemporary practices, processes, and events that are already producing a new or “future” set of arrangements (with implications for understandings and conceptions of temporality); and the history of the concept “future” and historical materials that show how alternative understandings or experiences of “future” may have obtained in other times and places.

The seminar is made up of participants whose work includes, but is not limited to, topics such as:

  • theories or philosophies of the future (and corresponding notions of historical temporality);
  • economic futures and the future of capitalism (e.g., debt, credit, financialization, work, runaway growth, economic crisis etc.);
  • environmental futures (e.g., climate change, resource extraction, debates about the Anthropocene etc.);
  • political futures (e.g. the changing relation between state, economy, and society; eclipse of democracy, populism and authoritarianism; mass displacement and statelessness; globality and borders; (im)mobilities, permanent war; new forms of imperialism and internationalism; prospects for socialism etc.);
  • religious futures (e.g., the worldwide explosion of evangelical Christianity, resurgent and novel forms of messianic and apocalyptic thinking);
  • aesthetic and cultural futures and futurisms (e.g., Afro-futurism, sci-fi, indigenous futures); dystopias; visionary literary, musical, and visual practices; new forms of social media and mass mediation);
  • subjective futures (e.g., emergent forms of subjectivity, embodiment, intimacy, desire etc.; the widespread fear that there is “no future”);
  • techno-futures (especially related to automation, digitization, and biomedicine)