Jean-François Lyotard’s famous characterisation of the postmodern condition as the ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’ (1984: 23–24) has been influential in the anthropology of the 1980s, both in the sense of its internal methodological scepticism and as critical realism that questioned the post-utopian state of the external world that anthropology explored. The anthropology of globalisation and neoliberalism that followed from the 1990s onwards has also stressed presentism and the contemporary as qualities that were to be lived as well as researched without assuming their teleological ends. As observe the guest editors of Social Anthropology/Anthropologie Sociale’s special issue ‘Curious Utopias: Dreaming Big Again in the Twenty-first Century?’, Ruth Prince and Tom Neumark, human expectations seemed to have undergone a ‘seismic shift’ away from grand dreams and narratives. But they also note that there has been a ‘concurrent and apparently countervailing trend: a return toward ambitious, even self-asserted utopian imaginations and schemes of economic, political and societal transformation’. Now, this is curious: discredited visions of utopian futures celebrate a return in the worlds studied by anthropology. Using curiosity as both a mode of anthropological inquiry and as a state of utopian imagination, this special issue tries to find a new home for utopia within anthropology.


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