Coming of Age on Earth: Legacies and Next Generation Anthropology
The complexities of the contemporary human condition are both timeless and unique. Every generation faces countless crises—environmental, medical, economic, cultural and political—but many argue that the scope and scale of today’s challenges pose more of a threat than ever before. Despite the fact that numerous initiatives engage in prevention or alleviation of aspects of these crises, social groups, institutions and individuals around the world remain threatened.
The popular rhetoric of change compels us to act ‘for the sake of future generations’. Whether a foundational cultural proverb, a perennial political slogan or everyday common sense morality, this foregrounds acting on the behalf of others. But is this rhetoric of futurity, replication and preservation contributing to maintenance of the status quo, and if so, how? And regardless whether deployed strategically or unknowingly, can it also work to undermine solutions? Similarly, how does this rhetoric spark radically different visions of what a “better future” would be? Myriad challenges to the status quo articulate different paths forward, reframing who these future generations may be, what they might value, and which are the most desirable means to work towards designated goals. These imaginative frameworks often include projecting aspects of a more or less idealized past and present as a model for the future.
Coming of age suggests, however, that we look not only at our collective human past and present in a search for solutions, but also at new challenges to our presumed trajectory by acknowledging generational change in the form of innovations, cultural movements, different ways of seeing and mobilizing legacies in dealing with everyday changes. Members of the ‘next generation’–whether by age or by way of thinking—have been among the loudest in articulating opposition to dominant visions and priorities for the future. But is the bifurcation of the ‘next gen’ from general society productive or another form of Othering? Do certain pathways forward position youth primarily as the objects of research or policy, as passive recipients of what is passed on to them by previous generations? How do the next generation thinkers become thought leaders and where is the fine line of stigmatization? Do movements simultaneously criticized as asocial—extreme individualism and lack of solidarity—hold important social values?
Coming of Age on Earth asks us to scrutinize this era of anticipated extreme change for its implications on stasis, tradition and consistency. As people are confronted with multi-scalar, intersectional and embodied forms of coping, cultural forms can be resilient. Under conditions of dynamic change, what are the anchors of tradition and what role do they play? What is the role of stability in an era of unprecedented change? Next-gen cultural artefacts and tools—artificial intelligence, digitalization and new modes of community-building empower radical change alongside forging new kinds of old socialities. As modes of surveillance and conformity increase, so do opportunities for radical alliances and change.
Anthropology is uniquely positioned to study the legacies that shape and are being shaped by the next generations. This Congress invites panels and contributions from all four fields of anthropology that will be inspired to contextualize their research and ideas with regard to the questions raised by the perspective of Coming of Age on Earth.
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