Cultures of Anticipation: Introducing a new project


The future is not an invention of modernity. Since earliest times, people have developed technologies and discourses to negotiate what was to come. But the differences between cultures, their times and spaces make it impossible, of course, to draw a line from the strategies to anticipate and mark the change of the seasons to the development of complex algorithms calculating large numbers of future scenarios in milliseconds. But, just as our memory shapes what we are as individuals and as groups, so does what we anticipate. However, in recent decades anticipation has become more and more problematic, not only in our real lives marked by climate crisis just as much as by the crises of our political orders such as Brexit or the Trump administration, but also if we regard the future as a critical term in cultural studies and cultural history. This is, to a certain degree, an effect of late capitalism just as much as of its criticism: both Francis Fukuyama’s proclamation of an “End of History” as much as Frederic Jameson’s point in Postmodernism of the Logic of Late Capitalism, in which the future becomes unattainable as a vision, in which all we anticipate is another round of nostalgias, citations and retro-movements both analyse as much as prescribe this view of the future, even though our current cultural moment, in which the term future appears as mostly connected with fears and anxieties, seems like an amplification of this cultural condition. But it is also a problem that cultural historians and cultural studies scholars appear to have comparatively little interest to conceptualize the future and turn away from the idea of utopia. In this way, we do not partake in shaping the future, leaving this important cultural arena to positivist modelling disciplines and universalising institutions like the World Bank or the OECD, and to the idiosyncratic future fantasies of billionaire celebrity entrepreneurs like Elon Musk. The return of a critical concept of futurity would stress again the value of, as Soshana Zuboff has also reminded us, the “future tense” as a basic human right, in the way in which Hannah Arendt formulated it. The aim of the concept of cultures of anticipation that I wish to introduce is to prepare the ground for a new critical future research by revisiting specific cultures of anticipation. Investigating cultures of anticipation is about the reconstruction and reflexive analysis of historical, situated forms of future-making. By this, I propose a return to a critical investigation of futurity by studying situated cultures of anticipation.

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