Histories of the Future

Histories of the Future

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 136 illustrations Published: July 2005

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Art and Visual Culture, Cultural Studies

We live in a world saturated by futures. Our lives are constructed around ideas and images about the future that are as full and as flawed as our understandings of the past. This book is a conceptual toolkit for thinking about the forms and functions that the future takes. Exploring links between panic and nostalgia, waiting and utopia, technology and messianism, prophecy and trauma, it brings together critical meditations on the social, cultural, and intellectual forces that create narratives and practices of the future. The prognosticators, speculators, prophets, and visionaries have their say here, but the emphasis is on small narratives and forgotten conjunctures, on the connections between expectation and experience in everyday life.

In tightly linked studies, the contributors excavate forgotten and emergent futures of art, religion, technology, economics, and politics. They trace hidden histories of science fiction, futurism, and millennialism and break down barriers between far-flung cultural spheres. From the boardrooms of Silicon Valley to the forests of Java and from the literary salons of Tokyo to the roadside cafés of the Nevada desert, the authors stitch together the disparate images and stories of futures past and present. Histories of the Future is further punctuated by three interludes: a thought-provoking game that invites players to fashion future narratives of their own, a metafiction by renowned novelist Jonathan Lethem, and a remarkable graphic research tool: a timeline of timelines.

Contributors. Sasha Archibald, Susan Harding, Jamer Hunt, Pamela Jackson, Susan Lepselter, Jonathan Lethem, Joseph Masco, Christopher Newfield, Elizabeth Pollman, Vicente Rafael, Daniel Rosenberg, Miryam Sas, Kathleen Stewart, Anna Tsing


Histories of the Future succeeds in unifying a variety of texts, multitudinous in form, by means of recurring themes such as boundaries, technology, risk, paranoia and fatalism. . . . The argument—that personal futures need not be closed off by official futures, and that all futures are haunted by the ghosts of past futures—is sustained throughout.” — Matt Harvey, Social Semiotics

“[A] fascinating account of the multiplicity of futures and future nostalgia that mark not only North America but non-Western contexts. . . .” — Graham J. Murphy, Science Fiction Studies

“Entertaining and worthwhile reading.” — M/C Reviews

“[R]equired reading for anyone who wishes to think about the particular contingent development(s) of sf; to see more clearly the ground against which the figure of sf is often cast; and to comprehend more fully the ways in which the genre is only by convention a separate unique figure rather than an integral and interwoven part of that ground.” — Mark Bould, Extrapolation

“What distinguishes this collection above all . . . are the rich connections, links, and echoes across the pieces. This is a genuinely collaborative and carefully knitted-together project, in which contributors not only workshopped their pieces, and commented upon and responded to each other’s work over a number of years, but also went on excursions and site visits together. This collection not only offers diverse and striking perspectives on the histories of the future, but also represents a sophisticated model of how to stage a conversation concerning this.” — Gerard Goggin, Media International Australia

"[T]he essays demonstrate that the junkyards of the present proffer rich prospects of futurity where every nut can find a niche. More illuminating and frequently more amusing is the use of utopias for social comment, critics and satire." — Eugen Webber, TLS

"The volume as a whole manages to cover a satisfying range of subjects in the wide net it casts. There is enough in it to indulge the interests of individuals ranging from New Deal historians to die-hard sci-fi fans. . . . Histories of the Future gives us a few things to think about as we forge ahead with our short-sighted addiction to progress." — Kathleen Quillian, Leonardo Reviews

“An eclectic, provocative mix of ideas and approaches united by their common intelligence and lucidity, the essays in Daniel Rosenberg’s and Susan Harding’s Histories of the Future tease out unexpected adjacencies between a welter of social, political, and cultural scenarios that touch on questions of the yet-to-come. This is a book that should be read by anyone with an interest in the relationship of the future to the past—and of the present to both.” — Jeffrey Kastner, senior editor of Cabinet magazine

“Telling of timelines to the end of time and boom times for imagining the future, this fine book is a boon for all of us who tune in for such timely discourses. Astute essays—and a chancy global futures card game—take the reader from salvage frontiers in South Kalimantan; to desert folk futurologies in Rachel, Nevada, and lived surreal cityscapes in Irvine, California; to fraught future makings through art, technology, and social movements in the Philippines and Japan; to that end-of-the millennium portal, Heaven’s Gate. Histories of the Future experiments with topic, genre, and mode. Its own narratives of the metastasizing metanarratives of late-twentieth-century and early-twenty-first-century future making are at home in trauma time, everyday time, Big Time, prophecy time, local nonstandard time, and global time. Asking how to examine grand stories with local acts, this valuable collection makes palpable the rich collaborative thinking that bound the authors as they studied the shapes of futures already lost and futures still imaginable. We never get Big Stories out of place; rather, Histories of the Future gives us robust places, artifacts, practices, texts, and performances in which narrative control of possible futures is at stake.” — Donna J. Haraway, University of California, Santa Cruz


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Daniel Rosenberg is Assistant Professor of History in the Robert D. Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon. He specializes in the intellectual and cultural history of the French Enlightenment.

Susan Harding is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her most recent book is The Book of Jerry Falwell: Fundamentalist Language and Politics.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. Introduction: Histories of the Future / Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding 1

2. A Notebook on Desert Modernism: From the Nevada Test Site to Liberace's Two-Hundred-Pound Suit / Joseph Masco 19

3. How to Make Resources in Order to Destroy Them (and Then Save Them?) on the Salvage Frontier / Anna Tsing 51

4. The Cell Phone and the Crowd: Messianic Politics in the Contemporary Philippines / Vicente L. Rafael 75

Interlude I. Global Futures: The Game / Anna Tsing and Elizabeth Pollman 105

5. Electronic Memory / Daniel Rosenberg 123

6. All That Is Solid Melts into Sauce: Futurists, Surrealists, and Molded Food / Jamar Hunt 153

7. Sing Out Ubik / Pamela Jackson 171

Interlude II. Access Fantasy: A Story / Jonathan Lethem 185

8. Subject, City, Machine / Miryam Sas 202

Interlude III. Manifesto of the Japanese Futurist Movement / Hirato Renkichi (Translated by Miryam Sas) 225

9. The Future of the Old Economy: New Deal Motives in New Economy Investors / Christopher Newfield 231

10. Why Rachel Isn't Buried at Her Grave: Ghosts, UFOs, and a Place in the West / Susan Lepselter 255

Interlude IV. The Trouble with Timelines and a Timeline of Timelines / Daniel Rosenberg and Sasha Archibald 281

11. Living Prophecy at Heaven's Gate / Susan Harding 297

12. Trauma Time: A Still Life / Kathleen Stewart 321

Bibliography 341

Notes on Contributors 355

Index 357

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3473-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3485-9
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