An interesting CfP I’m saving for my future reference

*Imagining Radical Futures: Anthropological Potentialities?*
Princeton Anthropology Graduate Conference
October 5th, 2018
Princeton University

*“The facts, alone, will not save us. Social change requires novel fictions
that reimagine and rework*
*all that is taken for granted about the current structure of society”
(Benjamin 2016)*

Anthropology has traditionally practiced restraint to speak only of what we know by virtue of “being there”. Anthropologists have embraced the limitations of knowledge while demonstrating the power of attention to the specific and the particular, to contest positivism and moralizing normativity. Increasingly, governments and corporations attempt to mobilize anthropological knowledge about social change, geopolitical events, sustainability and resilience as a predictive tool. Yet productive recognition of indeterminacy that anthropological theory and practice evokes opens doors to the imaginary, the hopeful, the potential, and the dreamed. This conference will explore the potential of non-predictive futures in anthropological thought and the methodological complexities of imagining futures from the present. The binary of “dark anthropology” and “anthropology of the good” (Ortner 2016) belies complexities and tensions in anthropological approaches to social change: anthropology can report, embody, employ, and open toward or against utopian ideals. What are the implications of imaginative fictions for interlocutors, ethnographers, and the discipline? What radical possibilities can anthropology’s fundamental questions about difference, relationality, and power open for us as we attempt to engage with futurity?

We seek contributions from graduate students in anthropology whose work contributes to understanding imagined futures and extends the anthropological imagination. How can anthropology treat the imaginary as both a heuristic and a space of futurity? What social role can anthropology play in voicing potential futures otherwise? How can ethnographers engage differently with interlocutors’ imagined futures?

Potential areas of inquiry include, but are not limited to, the following:
– New technologies
– Queering Progress
– Novel Fictions/Anthrofictions
– Nonhuman futures
– Creativity and imagination
– Climate and environment
– Hope at the margins
– Aging
– Temporality of Markets
– Policy

Interested applicants should submit an individual abstract (250-300 words) in addition to brief biographies on or before July 1st to antcon@princeton.edu. Limited travel funds may be available TBD.

*References*
Benjamin, Ruha. “Racial Fictions, Biological Facts: Expanding the
Sociological Imagination through Speculative Methods,” Catalyst:
Feminism, Theory, Technoscience: Vol 2, no. 2 (2016), 1-28.
Ortner, Sherry B. “Dark Anthropology and Its Others: Theory since the
Eighties.” HAU : Journal of Ethnographic Theory: Vol 6, no. 1
(2016): 47–73.

I admitted defeat this evening, ten days into NaNoWriMo. I fell well behind my target this week, leaving me in a position where I’d have to write 2000 words a day to finish the book. The fact I failed to write anything today means that number has only increased. The last two weeks of this month will be absurdly busy. I’ll be doing five talks, visiting four places and will only be at home for five days. Given I’ve struggled to meet my target up till now, I just don’t see the point in making myself miserable by trying for the rest of the month when it clearly won’t happen. Here are some things I’ve learned from the attempt:

  • I need time to mull over the plot for fiction, whereas ideas for non-fiction flow reliably as long as I’m reading, talking and blogging widely.
  • Whereas I can write non-fiction to a passable standard whatever psychological or physical state I’m in, it’s hard to write fiction unless I’m in a good mood and well slept. I usually have the former condition these days but the latter is much rarer in my life, unfortunately.
  • The word target for NaNoWriMo was a great motivating force when I was meeting my daily target of 1,666 words. But once I’d fallen behind, it started to really stress me out. I was writing to meet the target rather than to help a story unfold, exasperating the aforementioned difficulties with writing fiction unless I’m attentive to the plot and in a mood to enjoy what I’m doing.
  • You have to block out time for this. I have to at least. I’d expected to be able to write fiction in a quasi-automatic way, as per my academic writing. But I’m realising it’s a rather different craft, requiring a lot more care than academic writing. I just didn’t have the time and energy this month to give it the care it needed and this is why the project has gone off the rails. Whereas I can usually fit 90% of the academic writing process around the rest of my life, with dedicated blocks of time only needed for serious editing and preparations for submission.
  • I’m usually conscious of how Twitter intersects with my dispositions to form a machinery of distraction but trying to write fiction really intensified that awareness. Twitter leaches mental energy in a way that I’m coming to find profoundly unnerving.

It was a useful experience and I’m definitely going to try again next year. Though it remains to be seen whether my post-Brexit cyberpunk techno-fascist police thriller will be the foundation for something real or a faltering first attempt at serious fiction writing.

Another drabble, based on a scene I witnessed on public transport this weekend:

He couldn’t avert his gaze, nor could he stand to watch. The obscenity gripped him, drew him forward and out of himself. Sliding forward on the edge of his seat, he forced his feet flatly onto the floor of the tube.

With one last guileless turn of the tie, he could take it no longer. Leaping forward, he grabbed the tie of the man opposite and took charge of the process. Realising what he had done, he (belatedly) offered his help. Unsure what to make of the intrusion, the two young men meekly agreed, confused and amused in equal measure.

I encountered the notion of the drabble through reading Rob Kitchin’s fiction blog. These short stories of exactly 100 words can have a strange power to them, as little shards of reality that can be thrown out into the world. This is how Wikipedia describes the origins of the drabble:

The concept is said to have originated in UK science fiction fandom in the 1980s; the 100-word format was established by the Birmingham University SF Society, taking a term from Monty Python‘s 1971 Big Red Book.[1][4] In the book, “Drabble” was described as a word game where the first participant to write a novel was the winner. In order to make the game possible in the real world, it was agreed that 100 words would suffice.

There are other forms of micro-fiction. One that interests me is the radical brevity required to represent a scene within the 140 character limit of a tweet. Even more than a drabble, this precludes narrative in a traditional sense and that’s precisely what’s so interesting about it for sociological fiction. It frees the fiction from the narrative demands which might otherwise conflict with sociological concerns, allowing little fragments to be produced which can have a life of their own.

This is one example I wrote earlier in the week, intended to illustrate a theoretical point without invoking theory, though I’m not convinced it does this particularly effectively:

His jaw clenched as he contemplated yet another all nighter.

It was difficult to remember when he’d last slept properly. But his work, the work, couldn’t wait.

Throughout each day, each and every hour, millions of communiques were issued from this control room. Each issuing was important, with potential geopolitical consequences. Not something one could rush. Yet there were always more issuings to come.

He wondered how life might have been if he’d turned down the Neoliberal Diktat Division. But who would do that? The system could not run itself.

He reached for an energy drink from the office fridge.

But I’m finding it really fun to experiment with this. If you’d like to join me, I’m guest-editing a special section of the So Fi zine presenting sociological drabbles. The deadline for submissions is September 30th.

I think this is come out really well. Get in touch if you’d like to contribute something further:

 

This looks fantastic. Considering whether to submit a proposal:

The newly established Goldsmiths Press will be publishing a collection of essays on the topic of ‘economic science fictions’. The volume will be edited by Will Davies, Co-Director of PERC, and encompass various disciplinary perspectives, writing styles, including fiction and non-fiction. This builds on PERC’s launch event, at which Professor Ha-Joon Chang spoke on the topic ‘what can economics learn from science fiction?‘.

We are inviting proposals for additional contributions to this volume. Proposals should be no more than 300 words, and offer an overview of what the chapter will explore, what style and approach it will adopt, and which of the themes outlined below it will address. We particularly welcome contributions from designers and design theorists which reflect on how economic institutions are amenable to (re)design. If you are interested in contributing, please email Will Davies with an outline by 20th May. If proposals are accepted, full drafts will be required in late September.

About the book

Contemporary capitalism suffers from a grave shortage of alternative futures. While the dominant models of markets, of property, of money, of regulation no longer inspire much confidence, let alone enthusiasm, our contemporary fate is to repeat them regardless. Blank repetition of the status quo signals a society without the capacity to exercise economic imagination or economic design. The function of debt is precisely to ensure that such possibilities remain unexplored, creating bonds to the past, rather than blueprints for the future.

What we lack is ‘economic science fiction’, that is, the capacity to inject a modernist design ethos into institutions and practices which have come to feel permanent. This may also enable us to reconsider the present as the effect of past ‘science fictions’, and the on-going fictions as repeated by economists, financial services, accountants and managers. This is not simply about the need to revive utopian thinking, but also about the value of prosaic acts of institutional re-design, which go on in everyday situations. It is also about the need to open up the expert discourse of economics to a broader range of voices and styles, and to explore the overlap between economic ‘science’ and economic ‘fiction’. And it is an effort to re-capture the meaning of economic ‘creativity’ from its repetitive business usage.

This collection will bring together around 15-20 short chapters (circa 2,000-5,000 words each) from contributors inside and outside of Goldsmiths, from across economics and other social sciences, and also from creative and artistic spheres, such as creative writing and design.

Chapter topics could include:

  • What is ‘economic science fiction’?
  • Orthodox economics as a ‘science fiction’
  • Designing alternative futures: what do economic blueprints look like?
  • The art of writing an ‘economic science fiction’
  • Enclaves of utopian thinking: where (and by whom) will economic science fictions be crafted?
  • Alternative currencies or alternative property rights as ‘economic science fictions’
  • Postcapitalist organisations as ‘economics science fictions’
  • Economic science fictions of the past: excavating dead utopias
  • Prosaic acts of everyday fiction-building

Ha-Joon Chang’s PERC lecture will be included. We can also confirm contributions from Miriam Cherry, Mark Fisher, Judy Thorne, Owen Hatherley, amongst others.

Contributors are encouraged to write for a general readership and to explore ideas and opinions from a diversity of cultures and standpoints.

About the editor

Will Davies is a Senior Lecturer in Politics at Goldsmiths and Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Centre. He is author of The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition (Sage, 2014) and The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Wellbeing (Verso 2015). He blogs at http://www.potlatch.org.uk

  1. Imagining Futures: From Sociology of the Future to Future Fictions
  2. The Future Perfect
  3. Writing Fiction and Writing Social Science
  4. Life Chances: Co-written re-imagined welfare utopias through a fictional novel
  5. Patricia Leavy on Social Fictions
  6. Showing, not telling: some thoughts on social science and (science) fiction
  7. Liars, Damn Liars, and Sociologists
  8. You wake up and suddenly, a story is right in front of you
  9. Telling stories to help understand what sociology is about

Design fiction is a term first coined by Julian Bleecker and popularized by SF author Bruce Sterling, who describes it as “the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” and that it “attacks the status quo and suggests clear ways in which life might become different.”

Design fiction isn’t science fiction, it’s not just a telling of stories in the future or trying to make predictions of the future, instead it is a way of trying to envision and interrogate possible futures based on research data, current trends, and/or technologies. Originally, primarily used by product designers as a cheap alternative to prototyping new products, it has found traction as a critical tool allowing us to see through the fog of hype and digital evangelism. 

In this event Tim Maughan introduces design fiction for sociologists. He discusses the work he is undertaking with Sava Saheli Singh (New York University) and its possible implications for how we write about research.

Keith Kahn-Harris will discuss his new project which looks at how kinds of mainstream texts other than science fiction also generate ’social science fictions’, often ‘accidentally’ as a result of the pragmatic requirements of generating workable plots and scenarios. Such texts can help force attention to a neglected sociological question: what are the limits of possibility in human society?

Sarah Burton will also speak on a topic to be finalised.

Les Back and Mark Carrigan will each offer a short response before the event is opened up for a general discussion.

Eventbrite - Design Fiction for Sociologists

I was fortunate to meet Tim Maughan at the Digital Sociology conference in New York last month. Along with Sava Saheli Singh, he’s been exploring how design fiction can be used to communicate sociological ideas. This is how Sava and Tim describe design fiction:

Design fiction is a term first coined by Julian Bleecker and popularized by SF author Bruce Sterling, who describes it as “the deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change.” and that it “attacks the status quo and suggests clear ways in which life might become different.”

Design fiction isn’t science fiction, it’s not just a telling of stories in the future or trying to make predictions of the future, instead it is a way of trying to envision and interrogate possible futures based on research data, current trends, and/or technologies. Originally, primarily used by product designers as a cheap alternative to prototyping new products, it has found traction as a critical tool allowing us to see through the fog of hype and digital evangelism. 

I find this idea really exciting and I invited Tim to give a talk when he visits London. If you’d like to come then you can register here. It’s a free event that will take place at Goldsmiths on the afternoon of May 13th. I’ll be talking, as will Les Back, Keith Kahn-Harris and Sarah Burton.

Eventbrite - Design Fiction for Sociologists

In the meantime, here’s a great example of the work produced by Tim:

For a workshop on future London, five individuals — Arup, Social Life, Re.Work, Commonplace, Tim Maughan and Nesta—created 10 Future Londoners for the year 2023. This is a short fictional piece describing the working day of 19 year old Nicki, a zero hours retail contractor.

https://medium.com/@timmaughan/zero-hours-f68f17e8c12a

Here’s an example of what Sava and Tim have worked on together:

People talk about the future of technology in education as though it’s right around the corner, but most of us get to that corner and see it disappearing around the next. This innovation-obsessed cycle continues as we are endlessly dissatisfied with how little difference these promises make to the people implicated in these futures. These products and practices, cloaked in the latest buzzwords and jargon, often trickle down to non-western geographic regions after they’ve been tried and rejected, yet still adopted as the new and advanced “western” methodology that will solve the “problem” of education.

In an attempt to cut through the relentless TED Talk-like optimism of ed tech marketing, this year at the HASTAC conference in Peru we presented a series of fictional case studies. These four design fiction based personas aimed to illustrate the possible impact on society and education, in both positive and negative ways, of not just emerging technologies but also global social and economic trends. They give brief snapshots of the lives of individuals in imagined futures from different geographic, ethnic, economic, and cultural backgrounds, illustrating how each of them might interface and interact with the different technologies.

https://medium.com/futures-exchange/the-future-of-ed-tech-is-here-its-just-not-evenly-distributed-210778a423d7