This panel calls for examples of innovative research and initiatives on ethnographic collections that explore their potential and limitations for contributing to new ways of imagining and realising 'cosmo-optimal' social relationships in the future.
The anthropological imagination and practice of former times has left durable legacies in the form of ethnographic collections. These evidence not only the peoples and places from whom they were collected but also anthropological theories and perspectives of the time, specific personal as well as institutional relationships and visions of what was deemed worthy of saving for the future. Often collected within colonial frameworks and as part of a presumed salvage of remnants of disappearing worlds, today ethnographic collections are sometimes viewed as highly problematic and may be contested or subject to calls for repatriation. They are sometimes also seen as irrelevant to contemporary anthropological concerns. Increasingly, however, they are being revisited to generate new and often more nuanced understandings the past, including the nature of relationships 'on the ground' and the imaginations and aspirations of diverse participants. Moreover, they are also being re-visioned through new forms of use and engagement - including with those who see the collections of part of their own material legacies - to establish new knowledge and social relationships between participants. In this panel we invite contributions that explore the potential and limitations of ethnographic collections for forging positive and convivial relationships across cultural difference, i.e. what we call cosmo-optimal futures. We welcome in-depth case-studies that analyse the mobilisation of ethnographic collections as part of initiatives to variously address contested and difficult pasts in new ways, to forge new relationships with potential legatees or audiences, or to redisplay or otherwise re-vision collections for more cosmo-optimal futures.