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Essay History Nonfiction Social Sciences

What Happened to the Future?

By David Valentine, 2016

Over the past few decades, critical theorists have increasingly moved away from time as the privileged domain for explaining human experience and toward a geographical or spatial conceptualization of socio-political processes. For many critical theorists, history seems to have ended at some point between the conclusion of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s, for different if interrelated reasons. For Slavoj Žižek, it is 1968 and the capture and then betrayal of the hopes of that radical year by Western states’ embrace of free-market ideologies now referred to as “neoliberalism.” For Peter Sloterdijk, it is 1974 with Portugal’s withdrawal from its overseas territories, bringing to an end 500 years of European colonialism. And for Bruno Latour, it is more generally in the early 1970s with the acknowledgment of the sustained ecological crisis resulting from the colonial-industrial age. The “end of history” thus marks the end of Western modernity’s key narrative of progressive temporal stages—characterized by dates, events, charismatic individuals, growth, technological innovations and movements toward the future. For these scholars, the mode of social analysis is spatial rather than temporal, critiquing capitalism’s rapaciousness and resulting social, political and economic inequalities by drawing attention to the simultaneity of global events and arrangements. And so the end of history is also the end of the future.

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