Panel 3. Ruins of the Future

Ruins of the Future

Discussant: Dr. Andrew McDowell

2:40-4:10 pm

After Suharto, Before the Disaster

Cameron Hu, University of Chicago

Twenty-first century Indonesia has seen the rise of an immense apparatus of disaster management alongside its lauded remaking as a “post-authoritarian” and “liberal democratic” nation.  What, if any, correspondence may we observe between the two— between the technocratic contemplation of imminent destruction, and a form of life often understood to have triumphed as the universal ideal for the arrangement of human sociality? Drawing on fieldwork  among “disaster managers” in Jakarta, and on documents from the systems science of the 1950s and 1960s, I consider the forms of time produced in the contemporary sciences of disaster and their possible relation to the experience of the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.”

Yesterday’s emissions tomorrow. Audit and the European Union Emissions Trading System

Damien Bright, University of Chicago

Keywords: carbon emissions, audit, value, political economy, EU


The ubiquity of the climate change debate has changed the way we look to the skies. Denier or believer, data-driven atmospherics translate our representation of the weather into average global surface temperatures and the language of greenhouse gas emissions factors. This climate of fear is realized in the everyday experience of the millions caught in disruptive weather events, the affective recruitment of bystanders through media coverage and pop culture remixing, or the publicized commitments of world leaders in the lead up to high-stakes global conferences. “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody seems to do anything about it” — once flippant, the adage now has a sinister ring to it. Living in the anthropocene requires reckoning in the present with an already ruined future. In many ways, the “climate apocalyptic” (Northcott 2013) is therefore not a horizon of world possibility but the everyday experience of a ruin foretold. If “the creation of ruins is a function of capitalism’s fast-moving frontiers and built-in obsolescence” (Dawdy 2010, 31), what are the deeper connections between industrial modernity and the political economy of climate change? In this paper, I wish to interrogate the conceptual and material relationship between climate change and capital by exploring the politics of greenhouse gas emissions auditing in the European Union’s Emissions Trading System. Where permit allocation and pricing remain the center of much debate, I argue that the institutional history and epistemological commitments of emissions auditing are a more productive site for understanding the financialization of the environment. I will pay particular attention to the temporality of emissions auditing, unpacking the coproduction of material and institutional meaning through which yesterday’s emissions become tomorrow’s commodity. Ultimately, I contend that emissions auditing sutures the fast-moving frontier of the EU’s “flagship environmental policy,” and speculate about the role of bureaucratic ruins in understanding our present climate.

Future Pasts: Development with Ruins in Andean Peru’s Colca Valley

Eric Hirsch, University of Chicago

Keywords: development, indigeneity, historicity, sustainability, Andes

IMG_0462 copy

  What is the material aftermath of a paradigm shift? This paper answers that question as it pertains to dramatic and sudden changes in development policy by offering an ethnographic reading of two contrasting kinds of ruin that can be found in the context of “development with identity” (García 2005) interventions in the rural mountain communities of Peru’s Colca Valley. The first category of ruin is the kind that is being aggressively “revalorized” (an important term in Colca today), repurposed, and retrofitted: Uyu Uyu, a pre-Hispanic, pre-Inca village site archeologists and local laborers have recently finished reconstructing, dreaming that the site will one day become Peru’s “second Machu Picchu,” for example. Or, a half-destroyed colonial shrine, used for a beautiful outdoor mass held at dusk last Christmas Eve, or the old urns, musical instruments, and dust-covered documents on display in Gerardo Huaracha’s museum, which has won awards and the attention of cultural “rescue” NGOs throughout Peru. The second is a more recent form of ruin, what Grillo Fernandez calls “the garbage of development” (1998): abandoned attempts at modernization that leave a mess of half-finished infrastructure, unused steel and cement, rebar stakes sticking out of rooftops suggesting discarded futures of larger homes and social mobility. Drawing upon recent fieldwork to probe this contrast between forms of ruin, I explore what it means in the daily lives of these communities for development to shift from focusing on modernization to what I argue is its contemporary dream for Andean sustainability: a restored indigenous past.

“The Lordly Builders, Decayed and Gone…”: Ruin and Crisis in Ireland

Nathan Coben, University of California, Irvine

Keywords: real estate, crisis, bubble, future, Ireland, ghosts

P1010211The housing developments built during the real estate boom in Ireland in the mid-aughts are popularly known as “ghost estates”. After the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, tens of thousands ghost estates remained unsold, unfinished and unoccupied. News services around the world circulated images of the ghost estates, presented as ruins that evidenced a real economy made unreal by hubris, avarice, or excess. The home in that narrative had become a husk shucked from its natural good: the home evacuated of value for inhabitation, inter-generational patrimony, household production and reproduction. Photos of housing developments with no people, no apparent social, practically satirized the fetishization of the home as a fungible assets for exchange value.

At the same time, those images of ghost estates emptied out significant historical and social ways of reckoning time, economy, or loss from their framings. Ruin and crisis, as metaphors and ideologies of history that locate utopia at different ends of time, satisfied moral critiques of the real estate and banking failures of Ireland, and abroad. The spectrality of ghost estates has been rather flatly rendered as a shell remainder of a past walled off from present and future (as both ruins and crisis do in different ways). Tried again from another starting point, we might bring to light a more vibrantly spectral sort of afterlife, one in which value is not statically hollowed out, but toxically depreciates the homes around them, the balance sheets they sit on. This generative sort of afterlife might trouble, and enrich, the concept of the ruin. The pressing question of ghost estates is what unresolved souls, if they have never been lived in, could be haunting them? I draw on the fetch of Irish folklore—the ghost that doubles the form of a living person, portending their imminent death or departure—to think about an alternative futurity for these contemporary ruins in the context of new booms, busts and material traces.

About Panel Discussant Dr. Andrew McDowell

biopic 2015Andrew McDowell is a postdoctoral fellow at McGill’s departments of Social Studies of Medicine and Epidemiology. An anthropologist, his research focuses on tuberculosis and its care in modern India. In work with TB afflicted communities in rural Rajasthan he traces the changes in TB care and its memory as well as its dialectical effects on rural forms of life. Focusing on global health, kinship, and aspiration his work toggles between haunted pasts, futures, bacilli, and families.


One response to “Panel 3. Ruins of the Future

  1. Pingback: Abstracts Online | Mcgill anthropology conference·

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