Social scientific research on nostalgia has focused on intense forms of longing for specifically construed pasts, which, due to profound political and social transformations, are typically experienced by social actors as irrevocably lost. Building on this research, this talk zooms in on one peculiar variety of nostalgia – namely the longing for former political visions of possible futures subsequently lost through various forms of disillusionment. Taking inspiration from the aperçu by German comedian Karl Valentin – “in the past, even the future was better” (“die Zukunft war früher auch besser“) – I start from the hypothesis that many political activists, who brought about radical societal transformations in the past, were driven by specific political visions of the future they deemed possible and reachable through political action. However, in the aftermath of revolutions or radical transformations generally such visions quite often turned out not to be so easily realisable. Therefore, political visions of possible futures have often transmuted into “missed futures” in the sense of both futures that were not realised and that are badly missed in the present for the profound meaning and orientation it bestowed onto people’s lives. How do former political activists deal with their nostalgia for “missed futures” and how does this impact on their understanding and practice of “politics” and “political engagement” today? The talk, and the future comparative research project it envisions, thus aims to contribute to our understanding of the temporalities, and thereby the practical and practised possibilities: the “actual potentialities”, of the political.
Prof. Dr. Olaf Zenker (MLU Halle-Wittenberg)
After earning Master’s degrees in Social Anthropology (LSE) and Linguistics & Literature (University of Hamburg), Olaf Zenker did his PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology and the Martin Luther University in Halle in 2008, and subsequently became a Postdoc in the Max Planck Fellow Group Law, Organisation, Science and Technology (LOST). In 2009, he joined the Institute of Social Anthropology at the University of Bern (Switzerland) as Assistant Professor, where he also held an Ambizione Research Fellowship (SNSF) and received his Habilitation in 2015. Apart from Visiting Fellowships at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa), the University of Cambridge (UK), Harvard University (USA) and the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies (South Africa), he held Professorships at the University of Cologne, the Freie Universität Berlin and the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), before joining the Martin Luther University in 2019. Focusing on Southern Africa, Northern Ireland and Germany, his research has dealt with political and legal issues such as statehood, bureaucracy, the rule of law, normative pluralities, modernity, inequality, justice, conflict and identity formations, as well as sociolinguistics and anthropological epistemologies.
Source and further information: MLU Halle-Wittenberg, Link (3 July 2019)