Presentation @ ICA 2017

Next week, I’ll be presenting at the International Communications Association conference, San Diego, on the future as a trope by which potentiality and speculation may be folded into the domain of reasoned judgment. Saturday 27 May, 9.30am, Aqua Salon AB.

On Futures, and Epistemic Black Markets

The future does not exist: and this simple fact gives it a special epistemic function.

The future is where truths too uncertain, fears too politically incorrect, ideas too unprovable, receive unofficial license to roam… The future is a liminal zone, a margin of tolerated unorthodoxy that provides essential compensation for the rigidity of modern epistemic systems. This ‘flexibility’ is central to the perceived ruptures of traditional authorities in the contemporary moment. What we call post-fact politics (David Roberts), the age of skepticism (Siebers, Leiter), the rise of pre-emption (Massumi, Amoore), describe situations where apparently well-established infrastructures of belief and proof are disrupted by transgressive associations of words and things. The future is here conceptualised as a mode for such interventions.

This view helps us understand the present-day intersection of two contradictory fantasies: first, the quest to know and predict exhaustively, especially through new technologies and algorithms; second, heightened anxiety over uncertainties that both necessitate and elude those efforts. In the talk, I trace these contradictory fantasies across several interconnected scenes. We find voracious data hunger and apophenia (Steyerl) accompanied by visions of uncontrolled futures in the Snowden affair, and the narrative of radical terrorism; in Donald Trump’s depiction of eroded borders, and the use of latest surveillance technologies in tracking Muslims; in the revival (endurance?) of the paranoid style (Richard Hofstadter); and even in the apocalyptic warnings over climate change, tempered by deep confusion over the reliability of such estimates.

The trading of ‘futures’ in stock markets originated from the need to align uncertainties inherent in agricultural timescales with the epistemic demands of human markets. The futures I speak of are currency in epistemic black markets: spaces where things other than presently real, proven, accounted for, may nevertheless be traded for sentiment and opinion.


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