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).
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?
When the transatlantic slave trade forced Africans into the newly emerging sugar plantations of the Caribbean and Brazil, they brought with them their own understandings of temporalities to the New World. Enslavement denied any independent future to African protagonists, or offered them only a step-by-step liberation through gradual self-ransom, as for example in the Cuban system of coartación. In her classical study on the manumission systems in the slavery-driven goldmines and households of the Brazilian Minas Gerais, Laura Souza has pointed to the various resultant temporalities affecting slaves and slaveholders alike.
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.
In the Latin American context of frequent and severe economic crises, both private and public actors have developed an array of anticipating strategies to deal with the volatility of markets, financial risks and uncertainties. Traditionally, a strong state was seen as a solution to market instability and economic stagnation. This market-scepticism is still alive among the representatives of ‘new developmentalism’ and neo-structuralist thinkers. In contrast, neo-classical authors have seen the state as a main source of uncertainty that hinders entrepreneurial activity through high inflation, politically motivated interventionism, and rent-seeking activities.