As part of a belated interest in people’s engagements with possible futures, the start of the third millennium witnessed the emergence of a burgeoning subfield around the anthropology of hope. Anthropologists investigate the objects of people’s hopes and their attempts to fulfill them. They also reflect on hope as an affect and disposition, and as a method of knowledge production. Three interrelated but analytically distinguishable concerns can be discerned in the anthropology of hope. First, anthropologists are interested in the conditions of possibility of hoping. Such studies of the political economy of hope explore the circumstances in which hopefulness does or does not flourish, and the unequal distribution of intensities of hoping, and of particular hopes, among different categories of people. A second domain consists of anthropological research on the shapes that hoping takes. Studies in this phenomenological vein investigate how hopefulness and hopes appear in the world. How does hoping work over time in people’s practices, reflections, and orientations, and with which intended and unintended effects? A third concern emerges around the relationship between hoping as a subject matter of ethnographic study and anthropology as a form of knowledge production. How do scholarly understandings of hope inform the development of the discipline and, particularly, its engagement with political critique and its capacity to help imagine alternatives?
Mass communication is a constitutive part of social life and experience across the world today, affecting how people work, practice religion, engage in politics, understand others, and so on. Indeed, in many world contexts, social actors interact with mass media on a daily basis. In doing so, they not only consume or produce media artifacts but also participate in publics. A public is a particular kind of social form that coalesces as discourse circulates among, and thereby creates, audiences of mutual attention. Through participants’ ongoing orientation to and engagement with circulation of texts and images, publics produce social arenas that link disparate persons into collectivities of shared interests, issues, and convictions. Some publics are large, general, and sustained, such as those centered on national news. Other publics focus on particular topics, such as those related to religious communities, political ideologies, marked social identities, professional worlds, or even hobby and fan cultures. Others still are relatively small scale, such as those formed among the diffuse groupings of friends and acquaintances connected on social media platforms. As venues constituted by the circulation of discourse, publics have wide-ranging social and political consequences. The interests and identities that they privilege and presuppose shape broader processes of social belonging, exclusion, and contestation. Publics ground claims to political authority through assertions of the public interest. Publics also mediate contemporary consumer capitalism, as when advertising targets particular networks of public circulation. In short, publics lie at the center of contemporary social formations and political economies. The anthropology of publics and the public sphere examines how practices and structures of mass communication mediate and generate wider forms of social and political organization. How do publics normalize some identities while marginalizing others? Under what conditions can publics emerge as political actors? How do dominant public spheres shape political cultures? In taking on these questions, anthropologists attend to the regimes of publicity; that is, constellations of participation norms, social imaginaries, media infrastructures, language ideologies, and metadiscourses that organize publics. This analytic perspective illuminates both how normative publicity is reproduced and challenged and to what effect. In addition, in focusing on discursive circulation, scholarship on publics has pushed anthropologists to develop research methodologies that go beyond face-to-face, participant observation as a tool of data collection. The anthropology of publics and the public sphere has thus emerged as a theoretically generative and methodologically innovative field that endeavors to illuminate mass communication and its implications for social life. In doing so, it has generated novel theoretical understandings of mass media, power and affect, consumption and capitalism, identity, belonging and exclusion, and the bases and limits of democratic representation.