In trying to understand different temporalities of the future in Latin America, researchers have to look at the overlapping and interacting concepts of the future stemming not only from different regions of the world, but also from various time regimes. Our research programme, therefore, focuses on aspirations and anticipations of people in Latin America to investigate the different protagonists’ projections of the ‘time to come’ and the historical and social processes determining their practices to create the future. Whereas in our conception aspirations refer to the process of actively crafting the future (for example, projects of conquest and colonization, establishment of educational systems, revolutionary movements), the term anticipations denotes a reaction to possible future developments and a way of coping with contingency (for example, preparations for natural catastrophes, demographic developments, adaption or negation of the Western project of ‘modernization’, migration and exile).
We depart from the assumption that aspirations are a prime motivator in human practices to engage actively with the time to come. Arjun Appadurai suggests that the capacity to aspire is an essential condition for lower social strata to forge a better future (Appadurai 2013). As a continent of hope, Latin America drove aspirations of European and other newcomers from the earliest days of colonization and, through the emigration waves of the 19th and 20th centuries, when emigration was forced by social disasters in the Old World. Stefan Zweig’s book Brazil – Land of the Future (1941) is a prime example of such aspirational projections.
Early accounts of ‘Indian’ societies crossed the Atlantic Ocean and inspired European writers to develop their ideas of an ideal society. Thomas More’s Utopia, published in 1516, became a label for a whole genre of literature and a key concept of social analysis. In the novel, More designed ‘the best condition of the state’ on the fictitious island of Utopia, located in the New World. More's ideas flowed back to America, and their influence on the work of evangelization, especially in its beginnings, has been highlighted since Silvio Zavala’s seminal study from 1937 on the aspirations of the first bishop of Michoacán Vasco de Quiroga.
With anticipations, in turn, we mean an individual or collective preparation for unavoidable or seemingly unavoidable events to come: an awareness and acceptance of future change. In practice, anticipation might envision the future as embedded in the past and present via trend extrapolation, time series analysis and the like, or address completely unfamiliar and alien scenarios to increase the capacity to distinguish amongst possible, probable and preferred future scenarios. In the Valley of Mexico, for example, water management has been a major concern of anticipation ever since the earliest civilizations. While the Mexican tlatoani (ruler) were charged with the building and maintenance of dikes, locks and canals to avoid the flooding of residential zones in Tenochtitlan and Chinampa agriculture in the Xochimilco region, the Spaniards tried to control these water flows by draining the plateau altogether. Embankment dams, a topic of growing importance throughout Latin America today, serve as a modern example of anticipations. While on the one hand projecting solutions to an increasing demand for electric power and a promise of local and national employment, the announcement of a power plant is perceived in apocalyptic terms by those people who must be removed from the site of construction. The recent novel Os Malaquias by the Brazilian writer Andréa del Fuego (2010) expressively picks up these contrary anticipations.
The specific forms of aspirations and anticipations developed in distinct contexts of Latin American history and the present day are based on the constant interaction of different actors with different concepts of time within spaces of ethnic heterogeneity and growing global entanglement. During the 19th century, large-scale foreign direct investments in Latin America reflected European projections of the future that fuelled cyclical patterns of financial booms and busts. The Argentinian Baring Crisis in 1890, for example, was preceded by a loan frenzy nourished by English capital and the anticipation of Buenos Aires as city of the future.
Simultaneously, Charles Darwin’s evolutionary conceptualization of time, inspired by his travels in South America (1832–1835), has been fundamental to European intellectual thinking and the development of the social sciences. The later application of Darwin’s theses in social sciences and historiography (Social Darwinism) resulted in projections of a continuous ‘whitening’ of the population (blanqueamiento) when transferred to Latin American realities. Refuting such elitist aspirations of racial purification, and counteracting European policies of racial segregation, Latin American thinkers like the Mexican José Vasconcelos in his La raza cósmica (1925) and the Brazilian Gilberto Freyre in his Casa Grande e Senzala (1933) came to interpret the ongoing miscegenation of the different ethnic groups in Latin America as a positive development for the future of humankind. Darwin’s path-breaking idea thus kicked off a continuous production of new visions of the future shaped by the interaction of various actors’ aspirations and anticipations.