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Anorthoscopic vision: Designing and Sensing the Future
Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3242-759X
2014 (English)Conference paper, Presentation (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

As a means of thinking about the future and issues of uncertainty, I would like to take my point of departure in a project I completed a few years ago (O’Dell 2013) concerning plans to develop a huge particle sciences facility in Lund, called the European Spallation Source (ESS). I was the only ethnologist working with a team of 10 other scholars, all from different disciplinary backgrounds, and I focused my research on what I framed as a cultural history of the future. The ESS, if it were ever to be built (and this was very uncertain since this Big Science facility involved financing from 17 different nations and many billions of Euros, in a time of economic crisis), would not be completed until the year 2019. But procuring the financial resources needed to construct the facility, and to mobilize public opinion in favor of such a development, implied the deployment of a massive publicity campaign. The actors involved in this campaign ranged from the regional government, and city planners of Lund to Lund University and local land owners.

Twenty years earlier debates raged as plans were made to construct the Öresund Bridge, linking Sweden and Denmark. In these debates visions of the future collided. Would the bridge improve the natural environment in Öresund or be detrimental to it? Would a strong region be a threat to the Swedish and Danish national projects, or an economic motor propelling them forward? Would a bridge facilitate the flow of narcotics and crime through the region, or constitute a precondition for a safer and more dynamic home for the citizens of the region?

As the idea of the ESS was launched, these types of debates were remarkably missing. In their place one found a rich flora of dreams of how this Big Science facility would spur the development of new golf courses, swimming facilities, public transportation, new schools etc. Architects produced models of the future that were put on display, and the regional planners published all kinds of drawings and CGIs of how the future would come to look in Lund. If the funding for ESS was uncertain, visions of the future seemed to flourish, and I would argue, “a better future” was the only thing that seemed certain.

So what can this empirical example (very shortly presented here) tell us about the future and issues of certainty and uncertainty? For my own thinking, I am struck by the role “vision”, and “ways of seeing”, function here.

The mode in which all of this is done (and here I am thinking particularly of the work of urban and regional planners) is a kin to what Paul Virilio (2000:38) describes as anorthoscopic vision which “involves restricting vision by masking all but the barest slit of the visual field, so that a figure is not seen all at once, but is successively revealed”. Vision is always framed, and perhaps visions of the future are destined to be more starkly framed than visions of the present. In the present the viewer always has the option of turning her/his head, or the possibility of peaking around the corner. Visions of the future are defined by stakeholders, and are thus more difficult to gain secondary perspectives upon. But in anorthoscopic vision, it is the minimum that is offered. The form of the object being viewed is not seen in its entirety but in sequential segments, which allude to the actual object’s form, shape and contours. In the case of the ESS the anorthoscopic visuals that are offered may in part be an outcome of the fact that no one is still sure of what the ESS will actually look like in its entirety. But anorthoscopic vision is a steering and controlling form of vision, that in this case even helps conceal the fact that no one yet knows exactly what we are looking at when we think (and when we are told) that we are looking at the ESS. When there is actually, nothing yet to see.

But anorthoscopic vision does more than offer us a “minimum field of sight” it plays with and reorganizes time. It is a time machine. ESS only exists as a CGI and paper model. But roads are being built, train lines are being drawn, and new neighborhoods are growing. The future in this sense is very present. It is not something that necessarily lies in front of us, but as this case helps illustrate it is very much with us now. It is changing Lund physically, and in a very real manner. So it might be interesting to reflect upon what types of futures we are discussing and encountering in this workshop. Some futures (most of them) will never materialize. They will only have a life in the form of a dream or vision. Some futures will change and slowly come into being as something “Other” than we are envisioning now. And some futures are very present and with us, affecting us and changing us in ways that we may or may not be fully aware of. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014.
Keyword [en]
Anorthoscopic Vision, Ethnography, Future Studies
National Category
Ethnology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hh:diva-29903OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hh-29903DiVA: diva2:877427
Conference
Design + Ethnography + Futures I: Uncertainty Symposium / workshop at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and Design (RMIT), Melbourne, VIC, Australia, December 10 & 11, 2014
Projects
SCACA
Available from: 2015-12-07 Created: 2015-12-07 Last updated: 2015-12-21Bibliographically approved

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