Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies / Academy / • Archiv / 2016 / Call for Papers: "Uncertain Futures" in Tsantsa


Call for Papers "Uncertain Futures"

Dossier Guest Editors: Valerie Hänsch (Dept. Social Anthropology, University of Bayreuth) Lena Kroeker (Bayreuth Academy of Advanced African Studies, University of Bayreuth), Silke Oldenburg (Seminar of Social Anthropology, University of Basel)

Uncertain situations are an unavoidable part of social life. Societies, however, differ in their ways of perceiving situations with uncertain outcome and how they respond to them considering the (material and immaterial) tools at hand. When struggling, actors try to change the situation itself, to shape their life, and to secure their future. Therefore, responses entail either individual solutions or collective approaches and, thirdly, social institutions, such as authorities, may be involved in dealing with the problem.  Preferences of certain ways of dealing with uncertainty differ thereby culturally.

In contrast to risky or threatening situations, uncertain situations are characterised by difficulties to assess and anticipate it due to 'non-knowledge' and/or the inability to produce the necessary knowledge. Risk, by definition, is based on calculations of damage and occurrence probabilities and, thus, figures which are not available in uncertain situations. Threats are at least known with respect to kind or quality and often also measurable. Due to the inability to assess uncertain situations and adequate responses they are imbued with strong emotions and can rarely be dealt with based on purpose-rational calculations.

The topic of "Uncertainty" inspired into a vivid debate among anthropologists in the recent years.  Various situations have been described, for instance responses to (natural) disasters (Macamo und Neubert 2012; Oliver-Smith 1986), displacement/migration (Colson 1971; Hänsch 2012; Jackson 2013), hunger crisis (Spittler 1989), diseases, especially HIV/AIDS (Whyte 1997; Haram und Yamba 2009; Jenkins et al. 2005; Kroeker 2015), as well as growing up and living in war and conflict zones (Vigh 2006; Christiansen et al. 2006; Oldenburg 2014; Lubkemann 2008). The situations were indeed not unknown, but the impact on life in future is.

Visions of a brighter future play a pivotal role in dealing with uncertainties. The future may, on the one hand, be perceived as exciting, open and full of daydreams, or, on the other hand, be struck by worries and fear. Both perceptions result from current and past interpretations of culturally embedded life worlds.

Time, being an abstract topic, can hardly be studied in anthropology without making reference to empirical works. Responses to uncertainty are a particularly eligible field for studying the dimensions of time. Dimensions of time unfold in relation to imaginations of brighter or other situations of life but the current one. Immediate visions of the future may, thereby, differ from long term aspirations, which are already in preparation, and from those visions which will play out with coming generations or after (earthly) life. This multiplicity of imaginations points therefore at a multiplicity of notions of time which may even exist besides each other. We therefore speak of  competing visions of the future and, thus, of futures in the plural.

Expectations and preparations which are meant to realise desirable developments and to prevent undesirable ones can tell a lot about conceptualisations of the future. However, so far, the future was hardly ever explicitly analysed in ethnographic studies even though uncertain situations have been described in plenty. With regard to this dossier we therefore seek contributions, which connect dealings with uncertainty with a temporal perspective on future(s). We are particularly looking forward to empirical examples (contemporary or historical) as well as theoretical discussions on uncertainty and future(s).

The following questions guide our interest:
1)    Which temporalities mold assumptions on how the future can be shaped and impacted on: Do these visions and practices derive from present and past experiences and/or are they aiming at an immediate, mid-term or far future? How at all is time and in particular the future perceived, debated, and experienced under the conditions of uncertainty?
2)    Which formal, informal, institutional and individual strategies, tactics and visions exist or evolve when trying to control uncertain situations? And how is knowledge produced? How do people juggle eventualities, contingencies, risks, and chances? What do different investments into future lives tell us about conceptualizations of the future which may differ from “western” perceptions of time and projectable and calculable lives?
3)    How does the engagement with uncertainties change imaginations about the future or provoke radical departures and alternative ways of life?
4)    Regarding different historical and biographical experiences: Are there differences between generations of how futures are imagined?

Languages: German, French and English
Please send us your abstract of the proposed paper until the 31. January 2016:,,
Abstracts: max. 500 words

Articles: Length of the text: 40’000 signs (incl. spaces and bibliography). Contributions are peer-reviewed by the editorial commission and external peer-reviews. For more information and guidelines, please visit the tsantsa website:

Contributions: Once the article is accepted, it must be supplemented by
•    a short (max. 500 signs) summary,
•    a brief biographical note, institutional affiliation and full correspondence address (including phone number and e-mail), in English,
•    4-6 significant key-words.

15 February 2016: Deadline abstracts
End February 2016: Notification of accepted papers
30. June 2016: Deadline for the submission of articles
15. September 2016: Review feedback to the authors
1. November 2016: Submission of final articles
May 2017: Publication Tsantsa 22 (online open access 2018)