Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Anthropology and Environment Society
Primary Theme: Anthropocene
Ursula Le Guin famously reflected that "the utopian imagination is trapped, like capitalism and industrialism and the human population, in a one-way future consisting only of growth. All I’m trying to do is figure out how to put a pig on the tracks.” Staying with the troubles of Anthropocene, anthropologists are increasingly interested in the cultivation of emergent worlds—orthodox and otherwise—attending to how diverse communities predict, envision, and anticipate futures and mobilize these imaginaries to legitimate contemporary projects. With multispecies livability at stake, such projects work to bring these futures into being; alternatively, to displace or disrupt them. While often cloaked in a technical veil, the future is always already political and performative, at once anti-political (Ferguson 1990) and alter-political (Hage 2015). Future-making opens up certain possibilities while foreclosing others, offering imaginative landscapes to sow seeds of stasis or change.
Nowhere are these terrains of struggle more prominent than in agriculture where scientists, politicians, agro-industry, farmers, and concerned publics collaborate and compete over the future of food production as well as the present such visions make possible (and often profitable). While Malthusian predictions of overpopulation and resource scarcity buttress biotech development(s), genetic engineering, precision agriculture, and vertical farming (Sunder Rajan 2006, Jasanoff 2005) such utopian/dystopian futures also motivate a “return to nature” through permaculture, rewilding, conservation, and emerging cosmoecological entanglements (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017, Lorimer 2015, West 2006, Despret and Meuret 2016).
This panel queries these imaginative landscapes, seeking to better understand how diverse communities of agrarian practice and possibility envision the future of cultivation and in so doing cultivate the future. We ask, what is the relationship between imagined futures and precarious presents? How are futures of scarcity or abundance envisioned? What contemporary realities must manifest (or not) to bring such visions into being? What institutional and infrastructural projects do these imaginaries inspire? What human/environmental relations do they engender? What practices and materials are engaged in the process of future crafting? As anthropologists, what might attending to such futures entail conceptually and substantively? How might it shift our subjects/objects of ethnographic concern and influence our theories and methods?
If the twined crises of capitalism and a changing climate have brought increased attention to “the imaginative challenge of living without the handrails” of progress, development, and modernity itself (Tsing 2015), some are gripping tighter hoping for the best while others are trying to get by collaboratively without them. Papers in this panel offer diverse ethnographic vantage points examining fishery futures in Greenland, hi-tech greenhouses in the Spanish desert, multispecies landscapes in Oregon, biotech laboratories in the American Midwest, commoning projects in New York, and recovery and ruination in post-hurricane Dominica. These papers will uncover and incubate glimpses of the Anthropocene-yet-Unseen (Howe and Pandian 2016) by foregrounding contemporary ethnographic case studies of those cultivating agrarian futures on a damaged planet.