Tell me, wise one, what does your crystal ball forecast about the future of anthropology?
Last year, our small group of three anthropologists trained in the United States and Great Britain decided to attempt a rare professional move: to forego participating in the more normative, individualized pursuit of tenure-track work in the global North in order to create a novel space of team-oriented scholarly production in Ecuador—a country we call home.
Max has struggled with anxiety all his life. He uses a combination of two devices, one to measure his vital signs such as heart rate and breath, and a second that responds to irregular readings from the first. This second device provides a mechanical buzzing stimulus, and Max uses it for about ten minutes whenever he feels overwhelmed.
If you review the headlines of magazines such as the Atlantic, Forbes and the Economist, you will discover an obsession with the future of work. Will labor become automated, even beyond manufacturing? Will bots replace white-collar human resources workers? Will vehicles need drivers?
Mexico today is gripped by a major sense of despair. The country has become an open field for massive extractive industries, particularly mining and fracking. The so-called war on drugs, has dragged on for over more than a decade and wrecked regional economies, causing widespread migration across and out of the country.
Any kind of anthropological future is enmeshed with the future of the people that we study. In my case, these people are psychiatrists. News-style answers to the question of what lies ahead might feature big data, artificial intelligence, or wearable technologies. Yet psychiatry’s future is also more uncertain at the moment than it had been in a long time.
Less than a decade and an administration ago, nuclear weapons appeared as Cold War relics that history had made obsolete. Their numbers dwindled, their importance declined, and President Obama inspired hope that nuclear weapons would be eliminated in a lifetime (or two). Today, however, nuclear weapons have made the comeback of the century thanks to a president who seems eager to reignite an arms race.
The term “robot” first appeared almost 100 years ago with the publication of Rossum’s Universal Robots (R.U.R), a science fiction play by the Czeck writer Karel Čapek. The play, a critique of emerging mechanization, takes up themes present in Marx’s The Fragment on Machines ([1857–8]1974).
The first time I ever questioned my decision to become an anthropologist—a listener, a questioner, a participant, an observer on the margins—was during a camping trip before grad school classes started.
“Chair of the Future.” Seventy years ago, Margaret Mead confirmed her futurist leanings by proposing that universities should promote the study of profound social transformations by appointing Chairs of the Future. Research on historical cultures and societies—“the Middles Ages and Classical Greece”—was already well established, she argued.