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Protagonists of the Future

First encounter of the IRTG Temporalities in May 2019

First encounter of the IRTG Temporalities in May 2019
Image Credit: © Santiago Engelhardt

We regard individuals, groups, institutions and other actors engaged in collective future practices and visions, including the state, as protagonists of the future. Throughout history, experts on the future have emerged as seers, prophets, prognosticators, visionaries, think tanks, and technical or political innovators. They act in local, regional, national and now even transregional and supranational contexts. Individuals, including revolutionaries or authors of visionary writings, often present themselves as protagonists of the future. However, they may also be chosen involuntarily. An example of this is the emergence of ‘the youth’ as a social category in Latin America during the 19th century.

Successful protagonists can become ‘authorities on the future’, although they may still fail to spread their visions to larger parts of society or may lose ground over time. The Catholic Church, for example, has been a major protagonist of future visions in Latin America for some time and is now only one among many institutions engaged in sense-making activities.

Who are the actors that actively engage in enunciating and shaping aspirations and anticipations within societies, and what conflicts arise from their different views? What constellations of protagonist emerge, what mechanisms or instruments do they create to anticipate future realities, and what risks and uncertainties do they address?

When Africans, due to the transatlantic slave trade, were forced to work on the emerging sugar plantations of the Caribbean and Brazil, they brought with them their own understandings of temporalities to the New World. Enslavement either denied African protagonists any independent future or offered them only the prospect of gradual liberation through self-ransom (e.g. as in the Cuban system of coartación). Laura Souza’s classic study on the manumission systems in the slavery-driven goldmines and households of the Brazilian Minas Gerais points to the various resultant temporalities affecting slaves and slaveholders alike.

With regard to women’s agency, the Encuentro Feminista Latinoamericano y del Caribe (EFLAC) has been articulating visions of the future for women all over Latin America. Nevertheless, the differing stages of feminist thought among academics, on the one hand, and women from rural areas, shantytowns or regions of armed conflict, on the other, has resulted in different temporalities of the future. Evidence of this is found in the conflicting perceptions of the proposed agendas as either ‘backward’ or ‘rash’. Truth commissions in various Latin American countries reappraise the past from the standpoint of the present in order to articulate a new national future. Today, centres of future research exist in many Latin American states, in which networks are built of academic and non-academic thinkers and futurists who develop visions and strategies for the improvement of the economy and society, often in close cooperation with partners from other world regions.

The Latin American context of regular and occasionally severe economic crises has prompted both private and public actors to develop an array of anticipatory strategies to deal with the volatility of markets, financial risks and social uncertainties. Traditionally, a strong state has been seen as a solution to market instability and economic stagnation. This market-scepticism still prevails among the representatives of ‘new developmentalism’ and neo-structuralist thinkers. In contrast, neo-classical authors view the state as a main source of uncertainty that hinders entrepreneurial activity through high inflation, politically motivated interventionism, and rent-seeking activities.

Consejo Nacional de Ciencia e Technologia
Banner Dahlem Research School