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date: 05 April 2020

The Anthropology of Hope

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Please check back later for the full article.

As part of a belated interest in people's engagements with possible futures, the start of the 3rd millennium has witnessed the emergence of a burgeoning subfield around the anthropology of hope. Anthropologists investigate the objects of people's hopes and their attempts to fulfil 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, amongst 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? Third, we find a concern with 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, in particular, its engagement with political critique and its capacity to help imagine alternatives?