Call for Papers 2015

Call For Papers – Ruins and Futures


“No matter how hard I worked, no matter how long I waited,

the future never seemed to arrive.” — Arata Isozaki, “Ruins”


In the early 1960s, Japanese architect Arata Isozaki superimposed his designs for “the city of the future” atop images of the ruination left in the wake of the atomic bomb. In his struggle to live up to the utopian vision of his contemporaries, he found himself forced to ask, “If the image of those ruins burned so deeply in my eyes and if my memory was prohibiting me from exercising my imagination on the future, should I not simply embrace the idea and accept that the future would be composed of the same kind of ruins?” Imagined in decay, Isozaki’s city of the future rises up among the ruins of its past.

For the 7th Annual McGill Anthropology Graduate Student Conference, we ask: How do such overlays–of futures and pasts, destruction and possibility, growth and death–resonate in the curiosities, priorities, and methodologies of anthropology? What are our relationships to ruins, to ruination, and to projects for the future?

The contemplation of ruins has a long history of its own–from sentimental Romantic fixations to contemporary concerns with traces, materiality, critique, and capitalism.[1] Stoler’s (2013) recent edited volume productively attends to ruins and ruination as fragments, traces, and symptoms of ‘imperial’ histories. Dawdy (2010) has likewise approached ‘modern ruins’ as markers of domination, but also fertile landscapes, “tears in the spaciotemporal fabric through which new social forms can emerge” (18). In each case, these authors depict the trails of debris that mark both historical and contemporary processes and presences. Yet ruins also seem to confound time in the crumbling of foundations, perhaps inspiring new ecologies of diversity, or even offering strategic sites for nation-building.[2]

Our aim is to provide a space to collectively think about and reflect upon ‘ruins’ and their relationto various temporal horizons. For instance, we invite participants to consider how ruins might trouble conceptions of time, progress and history. Can we think of the present as a site of ruination? How do material and immaterial traces of the past constitute a memory of the contemporary? Further, ruins may bring our attention to layered histories–for example, indrawing attention to how Khmer Rouge and Vietnam War bulletholes in 10th century templesflatten time or layer multiple temporalities. We might also ask how today’s technical or infrastructural ruins attest to futures that never were, or imminently may be.

Submitted papers are welcome to expand upon these themes in creative and unanticipated ways, but in the spirit of promoting a generative and lively conversation, we ask:

  • Beyond an immediate historical materiality, how might ruins trouble or produce various futures? If ruins have so often been viewed as physical testaments to a nostalgic or an imperial past, what might they instead tell us about an imminent or forgotten future?
  • What anthropological engagements might emerge when we view ruins as conceptual tools, dynamic processes, or theoretical provocations?
  • How can we approach the absence of ruins through sites of historical removal or landscapes of dispossession?
  • What kinds of traces do we allow to persist in the future? What endures through time?
  • What can become a ruin and what cannot?

[1] See Woodward 2003, Macaulay 1953; Starzmann 2013; Tsing 2014

[2] See Tsing 2012, Masco 2008

Works Cited:

Dawdy, Shannon Lee
2010 Clockpunk Anthropology and the Ruins of Modernity. Current Anthropology 51(6): 761–793.
Isozaki, Arata
2009 “Ruins.” In Arata Isozaki, 28–33. London: Phaidon.
Macaulay, Rose
1953 Pleasure of Ruins. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
Masco, Joseph
2008 “SURVIVAL IS YOUR BUSINESS”: Engineering Ruins and Affect in Nuclear America. Cultural Anthropology
23(2): 361–398.
Starzmann, Maria Theresia
2013 Excavating Tempelhof Airfield: Objects of Memory and the Politics of Absence. Rethinking History 18(2):
Stoler, Ann Laura.
2013 Imperial Debris: On Ruins and Ruination. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Tsing, Anna
2012 Contaminated Diversity in “Slow Disturbance”: Potential Collaborators for a Livable Earth. In Why Do We
Value Diversity? Biocultural Diversity in a Global Context. Gary Martin, Diana Mincyte, and Ursula Münster, eds. Pp.
95–97. RCC Perspectives, 9.
2014 “Occupy the Ruins.” Society and Space Open Site.
forum-on-the-occupy-movement/anna-tsing-occupy-the-ruins/, accessed November 25, 2014.
Woodward, Christopher.
2003 In Ruins: A Journey through History, Art, and Literature. New York: Vintage Books.

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