Guided by the two analytical concepts of aspirations and anticipations, our research programme on temporalities of future focuses on three research dimensions:
Protagonists of the future
We regard individuals, groups, institutions and other acting entities engaged in collective future practices and visions, including the state, as protagonists of the future. Experts on the future emerge in all human societies at all times as seers, prophets, prognosticators, visionaries, think tanks, and technical or political innovators. They act on a local, regional, national and, today, even in transregional and supranational contexts. Protagonists of the future frequently place themselves in this position, as do revolutionaries or authors of visionary writings, but they may also be chosen involuntarily, as was the case in the emergence of ‘the youth’ as a social category in Latin America during the 19th century. If successful, protagonists can become authorities on the future, but they may also fail to spread their visions through larger parts of society, or lose ground over the course of time. The Catholic Church, for example, long a major protagonist of future visions in Latin America, has now become only one among many institutions engaged in meaning-generating activities (Sinnstiftung).
The overarching research questions of this dimension are: what actors engage actively in enunciating and shaping aspirations and anticipations within societies, and what conflicts arise from their different views? What constellations of protagonist actors emerge, what kind of instruments/mechanisms do they create to anticipate future realities, and what risks and uncertainties do they address?
In Latin America, distinct social actors, organisations and movements have become protagonists of aspirational and anticipatory thinking and acting towards the future. Since the early 19th century, Latin American state authorities have created police institutions as important tools of governance. Policing was at that time seen as a powerful instrument for the creation of competitive and future-oriented societies and economies. Latin American police authorities, however, often envisioned and projected the ‘civilized’ post-colonial societies based on old colonial racial and social boundaries. In the course of the 20th century, national intelligence services assumed some of the tasks previously assigned to the police. They became particularly important tools of governance during the Latin American dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in the Cold War. Since the main task of intelligence institutions is to collect and to process all sorts of information that serve decision making about the future and planning, their practices stem from and are clues to distinct temporalities of the future.
Past and present aspirations of elites, for example regarding natural resources, revolve around promises of personal enrichment and global recognition through international trade. Subaltern actors, such as village dwellers in highland Peru and many other parts of Latin America, have been converting collectively to Evangelicalism since the 1980s and 1990s, thus accepting a rupture with the prevailing culture. As emphasized by Pentecostal churches, the revitalization of community work parties stands against the exploitation by individuals which is associated with Catholicism. Instead, a collective aspiration has been developed in ideological terms to unite individualized local actors into a common protagonist of future welfare. As for women’s agency, the Encuentro Feminista Latinoamericano y del Caribe (EFLAC) has been articulating visions of the future for women all over Latin America. The differing stages of feminist thought among the academically trained, on the one hand, and women from rural areas, shantytowns or regions of armed conflict on the other, resulted in different temporalities of future, as evidenced in perceptions of the proposed agendas as ‘backward’ or ‘rash’, respectively. Truth commissions implemented in various Latin American countries reappraise the past in the present, with the aim of forming a new future for their country. Today, ‘Centres of Future Research’ exist in many Latin American states, building a network of academic and non-academic thinkers and ‘futurists’ who try to develop prospects and strategies for the improvement of economy and society, often in close cooperation with partners from other world regions.
Relating to the future implies a projection into the unknown and trying to craft the future by aspiring and anticipating other or new times. Fantasies, desires, wishes and dreams have attracted the creative power of literature – as a capacity to aspire – from the first utopia to the science fiction of our days. At the same time, dystopian visions, expressed in warnings and threats, are the reverse side of the coin. They may have a teleological tendency, as in distinct and often religious versions of destiny and providence, or reproduce the idea of the openness of times to come, as in the belief in boundless progress and growth. In politics, artificial shrinking and expanding the horizons of expectation (‘war will break out tomorrow’; ‘climatic change is already here’; ‘economic growth/equality will never come’) allow play with temporalities of the future to enhance or deny the urgency of collective matters to be regulated for future wellbeing or peace. Yet projections of the future are also expressed in other, less spectacular everyday forms of personal interaction, such as in promises of mutual aid amongst inhabitants of Latin American shantytowns through fictive kinship relations like cuatismo. Here, attitudes like trust and confidence come into play, but also rumours, forebodings, premonitions and fear. Divergent projections developed by elites and subaltern groups have often been hidden throughout Latin American history. Because of the empowerment of social groups (women, the indigenous, Afro-descendants) and the growth of a new middle class, however, these divergences have become more visible in recent times as new conflict lines in different social spheres – ranging from the family and childhood law to the conflicts over uses of natural resources found in indigenous territories and a right-wing reaction against social mobility. The analysis of these conflicts with the different anticipations and aspirations behind them constitutes a promising interdisciplinary field of research.
The overarching research questions of this dimension are: How could, and how did projections of the future include culturally and socially heterogeneous populations? What visions failed to spread through larger parts of populations, or for longer periods, and why?
In Latin America, different aspirational projections of the future have influenced national histories and imaginaries in the 20th century. Post-revolutionary nation-state building was combined with aspirational projections towards the future. For example, Mexican intellectuals and politicians consciously projected institutions of the past as a promise for a future re-organisation of society after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917). The introduction of the ejido system (communal and individual use of state land) in rural zones promoted an indigenous institution and addressed the farmer families explicitly where their capacity to aspire was strongest. Throughout Latin America, family romances of the 19th century became models for the aspiration of national futures. But literary ideologies also generated regional Latin American projections like arielismo. Christened in José Enrique Rodó’s essay Ariel (1900), dedicated ‘to the youth of America’, this trend purposely provided instructions on how to build a (better) Iberian culture in Latin America in opposition to US materialism and became highly influential in cultural production and anti-imperialist movements. The manifold avant-garde movements all over the continent sought at the same time their own cultural identity and a place of enunciation in a universal modern culture of the future. Jorge Luis Borges, likewise, opened the perspectives on the revision of literary canons and on integrative concepts of world literature. The ‘boom’ authors who participated in the revolutionary activism of the 1960s believed they could change the world with complex literary aesthetics, using a sophisticated overlapping of temporalities, as García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (1967) perfectly demonstrates. The ‘new historical novel’ at the end of the 20th century represents new and different voices, world views, subaltern subjects and subjectivities that have become visible in social space as constructors of a more open, heterogeneous and diverse society.
Projections and expectations also arise as the result of the conflict of anticipative temporalities. For economic and social actors, these are theorized as an oscillation between risk and uncertainty. In the former case, the future is envisaged as a closed horizon, where all possible events are known and thus calculable, based on rational expectations. In the latter case, the times to come are envisioned as an open space, where nothing has been written. Competing temporalities of the future are produced by the simultaneous projection of dependence, growth, and sustainability in Latin America. Today, globalisation is anticipated in Latin America as an external threat, resulting in preventive measures. Parting with the crisis of the modern distinctions between nature and culture enables a better understanding of today’s anticipation of the future and a revision of past futurity. At the beginning of the 20th century dystopian views in Latin American literature diagnosed a ‘sick continent’ (continente enfermo), while the economists’ dependency theories of the 1970s decried the impossibility of modernizing the continent because of its entanglement in an asymmetric world system. A potential end to economic growth through resource exploitation and its political implications is anticipated in the theories and projections of sustainability and resilience, also reflected in literary theory and cultural studies.
Social theories, especially development and modernization theory, conceptualize processes as dynamics that are directed towards the future and conditioned by the past within given societal structures. This leads to a unidirectional understanding of ‘process as progress’, with a clear separation between past, present and future. All individuals, societies and regions that do not participate in the ‘process as progress’ are seen as ‘the others’ and relegated to the ‘waiting room of history’ (Chakrabarty). In our understanding, processes are series of individual and collective social interactions that encompass different moments in time. In this perspective, processes bring together different temporalities which interact with the hegemonic temporal order. Through these interactions and entanglements of different temporalities, multiple social and cultural processes become visible which relate the past and the present to the future in different ways. For example, violence in (post-)conflict societies is a temporal process relating past, present and future; the ways in which experiences of violence are remembered, (re-)imagined and embodied shape people’s capacities to aspire and their possibilities to anticipate the future.
The overarching research questions in this dimension are: What processes discernibly affect the aspirations and anticipations of actors in Latin America? What do they tell us about different temporalities?
Since Alexis de Tocqueville’s studies on the French Revolution and American democracy, the social sciences have tried to resolve the dilemma between continuity and rupture, to explain the processes of social change and stability. Theoretical concepts such as ‘critical junctures’ are especially useful to investigate anticipative processes, because they distinguish between long-term structural changes and the immediacy of the conjuncture. Explanatory principles like sequence and historical path-dependency contribute decisively to the understanding of social, economic and political processes and the role they play in future planning in Latin America. The recent commodity boom in Latin America seems to be one of these ‘critical junctures’, which has further cemented the region’s global role as peripheral commodity provider, in sharp contrast to China’s rise in the world economy. This gives leeway to dystopian views of a ‘middle income trap’ and social and ecological disasters in the region.
The uneven social distribution of the capacity to aspire, as exemplified in economic, urban or environmental processes in Latin America, is a main explanation for competing visions of the future and their implementation in a given space. Certain social groups or individuals enhance their aspirational capacities to push new beginnings as much as to put an end to undesirable structures, aiming at a literal non-future for social conditions of exploitation, corruption, individual indebtedness or civil war. For instance, in the context of migration processes, future decisions are shaped by structures of inequality and poverty, and these influence people’s capacities to aspire. At the micro-level, emigration of one or more family members has become an important mechanism among the Latin American poor to gain additional household revenue in a foreign economic environment perceived as safer. The new geopolitical constellation and deportation policies pose further uncertainties and challenges to risk management and coping strategies of poor households. Yet, although migrants’ temporalities have been imagined as responding exclusively to fears of an insecure future, they are in fact much more complex, since displacement is often triggered by aspirations of class ascent, gender equality, ethnicity and other aspects of pursuing a better life. Migrants’ aspirational temporalities can pertain to the idea called ‘futuring’, that is, understanding the present in relation to its value for the future as exemplified by strategies like the investment of migrant remittances in retirement ‘dream houses’.
Uneven social distribution is also said to be one of the most important reasons for criminality and violence in Latin America. Yet state actors often interpret and combat violent and criminal acts as problems of security. This process of ‘securitization’ has in many Latin American cities led to technological armament (establishment of networks between different security institutions and data bases, installations of video cameras, etc.). The outcomes of ‘predictive policing’ measures enabled by new human-machine assemblages, however, are still uncertain. While the stated goal of predictive policing is to reduce crime rates and violence, it could also do the opposite, by exacerbating profiling and selective policing and perpetuating racial bias. While big data policing and predictive policing are processes inseparably connected to certain actors (mostly security institutions like the police) and projections of the future, the latter have great effects on the present realities of people.