Accepted Paper:

Meeting, reading and writing: an anthropological approach to some practices of imagining new normals  


Eeva Berglund (Aalto University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper explores Finnish environmentalists and critics of growth economics who propose and experiment with alternative "normals" in grassroots initiatives. It foregrounds meetings, reading habits and types of writing as key to collective imagining, sustaining enthusiasm and making ideas manifest.

Paper long abstract:

Materialising imaginations goes hand-in-hand with articulating political critique in many contemporary prefigurative grassroots initiatives like urban gardens and maker spaces. As this creative activism has gained visibility around the world, anthropologists have researched it and treated it as a source of political and intellectual inspiration, often reaching analytical insight through personal engagement.

This is the tradition I follow here to explore the collective imaginings of Finnish environmentalists and critics of growth economics who challenge an unsustainable mainstream by proposing and experimenting with alternative "normals". Such activism has been unfolding for over two decades in small-scale yet ambitious projects of future making, some of which I know through personal involvement, but also through interviews and documents. Activism is at once practical and intellectual, simultaneously convention-bound and self-consciously creative, but in the paper I focus particularly on activist meetings, reading habits and types of writing. I show that these take up much time and are key to the whole endeavour, yet appearing unremarkable, they have rarely been explicitly explored. Alongside important recent analyses that have foregrounded bodies, affects, infrastructures and material transformation, these too demand ethnographic attention. They are fundamental to collective imagining, sustaining enthusiasm and to making ideas manifest.

Analytically I build on Adam Reed's work on reading (2011) and Stine Krøijer's (2015) notion of figurations of the future in radical politics. Empirically the focus is on the production of documents and an activist publication that ran from 1996 to 2003 whose main writers remain active social critics.

Panel P027
Materialising the Imagination: How People Make Ideas Manifest