Political Potentials

The second line of inquiry focuses on the practical coordination of human action, particularly in the realms of politics and governance. It addresses political potentialities within the cumulative crises faced by society, both as an empirical field of study and as an area that increasingly requires evidence-based intervention and care. However, collective action is undermined by the complexity of political ecologies, enduring habits, and limited imaginaries. First, globally and locally, individuals and groups struggle to agree on what should be considered urgent problems and how to address them effectively. Second, there is the growing realization that life on earth is contingent upon and shaped by innumerable entanglements. As people become aware of the limitations of human understanding, problems appear less manageable and collective action seems impossible to coordinate. Third, problems are framed by technologies, systems, and relations that have evolved over long periods of time, casting lingering shadows into the present. Actions taken now may have uncertain consequences that extend into distant futures and faraway places. Yet these consequences are ambiguous and only reveal themselves gradually over time. They are difficult to determine intersubjectively and thus remain contested.

Drawing inspiration from political anthropology, the inquiry explores the conjunction between the sense of crisis and the ordinary struggles for solutions. We study the contestations organizing global multiplicity, examining how people experience and understand complexity and how they navigate and manage plurality. The focus includes critical questions about resources, justice, and the outcomes of scientific revolutions that alter the world’s climate or life chances for different species. Conceptually, the investigation highlights key tensions in shaping political forms and arrangements, as individuals balance individual and collective interests while desiring security, freedom, and prosperity but also fearing resource depletion. We trace these developments and their implications for survival on an imperilled planet. Historical investigations complement contemporary dynamics by shedding light on how individuals utilize the past to shape their current political activities and guard against an exaggerated sense of “newness”. We also explore how people have perceived and managed crises in the past, revealing the impact of historical developments on habitual orientations, future pathways, and established knowledge regimes. In investigating global complexities, the inquiry combines considerations of historical becoming with an examination of scalar expansion and contraction, analysing how spaces of political action are influenced by competing visions of globality and how new political potentialities emerge from real-life encounters and travel into the future. Additionally, we explore how judgments about appropriate interventions change when people face the accumulating consequences of human thought and action.

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