Bryant's 2010 book, The Past in Pieces: Belonging in the New Cyprus (University of Pennsylvania Press) examined the ways that anxieties regarding the future reshaped the past within the context of Cyprus’ 2003 border opening. Her recent co-authored book (with Daniel Knight), The Anthropology of the Future (Cambridge University Press, 2019), outlines ways in which anthropology may study the futural orientations of everyday life. She is also the co-author (with Mete Hatay) of the forthcoming Sovereignty, Suspended: Political Life in a So-Called State (University of Pennsylania Press, 2020), which examines de facto statebuilding, or the process of constructing an entity that looks like a state and acts like a state but that everyone else in the world says does not or should not exist.
Catastrophic Futures: Anticipation, Speculation, Hope
This talk explores forms of collective action that prepare us for futures that we hope will never be. While the future by definition can only be expected and so always harbours the possibility of the unexpected, catastrophic futures engage anticipation, expectation, and hope in ways that are unusually speculative. Using long-term research on the human-made disasters of conflict and displacement, the paper outlines a theory of orientations to the future and focuses specifically on anticipation, speculation, and hope. The paper asks how futures come to be collectively anticipated or expected, and how orientations to the future shape collective action.
Previously, he was a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow in the Centre for Philosophical Psychology at the University of Antwerp. Before that, Nick was an instructor in the department of philosophy at Auburn University, AL, USA; a post-doctoral fellow at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil; a lecturer at the University of Leeds, UK; and, briefly, a research ethics training officer there.
Nick works on imagination, philosophy of mind, aesthetics, phenomenology, and feminist philosophy. He is developing a comprehensive way of thinking about imaginative experiences, taking phenomenological descriptions and thoughts about their capacities as explananda. Since he is interested in imagination, he is interested in philosophy of mind, particularly questions of content, representation, and intentionality.
In aesthetics, Nick works on issues where imagination and aesthetics overlap; for example, the ontology of artworks and the role of imagination in literature. He also works in natural and environmental aesthetics, and on a range of topics including dance music, film, and aesthetic experience.
Two Ways to Imagine the Future
Given the unavailability of actual time machines, imagination remains one of our best methods of accessing the future. In fact, philosophers sometimes refer to an imaginative capacity for “mental time travel”. But there are two kinds of futures that we can imagine: possible futures, and fictional futures. These two kinds correspond to a distinction between possible worlds and fictional worlds. Possible worlds are complete and consistent; fictional worlds need not be either. Imagination bears a different relation to each kind of world. In particular, the conditions of success on imagining a possible world differ from those on imagining a fictional world. What we might reasonably hope to achieve by imagining each kind of world differs accordingly. If imagining fictional and possible worlds are our two modes of access to the future, successful imagining of the future depends on choosing the right kind of world to imagine relative to our goals. I’ll examine in this talk the modes of mental time travel provided by imagining each kind of world, with special attention to their different conditions of success.
Rebecca Bryant Key-note speaker
Professor of Cultural Anthropology
Utrecht University, The Netherlands