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Anthropology of the Future

Instructor(s): Shannon Lee Dawdy
Spring 2021

Two major subfields of anthropology—archaeology and ethnography—have traditionally been oriented around the human past and the human present. But what about the future? Conceptions of the future and future-oriented behavior have long been understood to be a critical plane of difference between political economies, religions, and cultural groups, yet they have rarely been an explicit focus of study. When we shift the temporal frame to the future, questions that arise include: do all cultures have theories of the future? how much about human societies are intentional? how does ideology shape future possibilities? what role do imagined futures play in political life? We will consider theories of temporality, past futures (Aztec, Polynesian, Italian), and movements such as millenarianism, messianic religions, Marxism, Dadaism, utopian communities, Afro-futurism, transhumanism, and today’s neo-futurist movements that deploy radical technology and speculative design in response to looming climate change. We will also explore the intimate relationship between speculative fiction (e.g., Ursula K. LeGuin, Kurt Vonnegut) and anthropology.

CCCT 20010 | ANTH 20010 | MAAD 25010