Futures in Question Keynote Abstracts


Professor Lisa Adkins, Sociology, University of Newcastle, Australia.

Speculative Futures in Austere Times    

This paper takes as its context the productivity of debt, that is, debt as a form of money which generates money, and the centrality of debt to contemporary accumulation strategies as well as to the dynamics of social relations as a whole. It is concerned in particular with the temporality of debt, especially the widespread claim that the debt economy has ushered in a particular temporal universe in which time is both appropriated and destroyed. Thus, and to give just one example, in The Rise of Indebted Man, Lazzarato (2011) claims that the economy of debt has produced a society without time, that is, a society in which indebtedness into an (objectified and colonized) future not only appropriates the present labour-time of wage-earners and of the population in general, but also pre-empts non-chronological time and the futures of individuals and society as a whole. For Lazzarato debt thus closes down the possibilities and potentialities of time. He writes: ‘the principal explanation for the strange sensation of living in a society without time, without possibility, without foreseeable rupture, is debt’ (2011: 47). Yet while Lazzarato attributes the strange sensation of living without time to debt, other commentators have suggested that the money economy in general is connected to the destruction of time, and especially to the emergence of an unbounded, extended present (Simmel, 2004 [1907]). Indeed, the idea that money is destructive of time and especially of futures is a key motif of both classical and contemporary social theory.

Against this background this paper seeks to open out and pin down the specificity of the temporality of debt in the contemporary present beyond the notion of the emptying out of time. It will suggest that far from closing down the creation of new possibilities, debt itself precisely concerns forms of time which are not necessarily knowable and predictable in advance and escape probabilistic forms of forecasting and planning. Debt involves therefore not a colonization (and emptying out) of the future, but speculations regarding possible (underdetermined) futures, speculations which are based not on linearity (where futures roll out from the present) but on unpredictability. I will therefore stress that debt is a form of money which is generative not only of money but of also of non-chronological forms of time.  The potentialities of debt in regard to time are far from unproblematic. However, rather than through disengagement with the debt economy or through attempts to invent alternative time universes, I suggest that practices of speculation provide a key ground for contests to be waged in regard to the future.


Professor Patricia Clough, Sociology, Women’s Studies and Intercultural Studies, Queens College and Graduate School of the City University of New York

Beyond Neoliberalism: Bodies, Affect and Calculation

For sometime now criticism of neoliberalism has been focused on a securitization of every aspect of life that sets every aspect of life to risk..  Clough will consider a beyond neoliberalism in order to capture something of the moment we are in or at least some of us are in, outlining changing conceptions of labor, the subject, the body, and sociality or what she  will describe, following Randy Martin and Jordan Crandell, as the derivative social logic of a calculative ambience.


Professor Mike Michael, Sociology, University of Sydney

Big Futures, Little Futures

In this paper, I want to explore the relationship between ‘futures’ and ‘bigness’. Using the field of the public understanding of/engagement with science and technology as an example, I suggest that studies of the public’s engagement with science and technology have tended to focus on the spectacular and the controversial. This enacts a spatialization of contrasting or antagonistic futures that are assumed to be far-reaching and wide-spread, ie ‘big’. The paper suggests a number of issues with this tacit model. For example, the conflict of ‘big futures’ has become so routinized, that it is a chronic part of the ‘small futures’ of everyday life. Further, from a Whiteheadian perspective mundane ‘little futures’ can be said embody ‘big futures’, not least those that are emergent. Taken together, thirdly, this suggests a topology of big and little futures that might be subject to speculative analysis. This is illustrated with the examples of rolling luggage and band-aid plasters.