Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Colonies on the Moon/Cyborgs on the Earth: Evolution and Emergence in Anthropological Futures

Samuel G. Collins.

From its Enlightenment beginnings to its post-Enlightenment present, anthropology has been imbricated in prognostication: about the future of the human body, war, the intellect and culture itself. In this paper, I trace the genealogy of anthropological futures, suggesting, 1) that present examples of “future work” echo the past in significant—and problematic—ways and that, 2) the proleptic works of the past may be redeemed in order to help us to envision more sustainable human futures. In the 19th century, initial exercises in Spencerian teleology gave way to a sharp rejection of unilinear evolution in anthropology. Nevertheless, evolutionary thinking continued in the speculative work of anthropologists writing in popular journals and, in the 1930s, a revival in evolutionary thinking led to more expansive visions of future, global culture through applications of multilinear evolution and other strains of neo-evolutionary thinking. By the 1970s, however, a sustained critique of “master narratives” and systems theory resulted in the interrogation of Spencerian telos--the deep-seated notion (albeit one contrary to contemporary evolutionary theory) that we are developing in a particular cultural direction. In the wake of this “crisis of representation,” some began to conceive of the future as emergent alterity, i.e., forms and agency on the cusp of both dissolution and becoming. Taking their cues from postmodern theorists such as Deleuze and Guattari as well as Bergsonian “creative evolution,” anthropologists have developed a different vision of a continuously emergent, heterotopic future. And yet, this future, too, is imbricated in many of the same Spencerian ideas of the past. Applying critical theory to these evocations of “cyborg futures”—in particular Ernst Bloch and Herbert Marcuse—I suggest new approaches to anthropological futures.


Samuel G. Collins  (United States)
Assistant Professor of Anthropology
Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice
Towson University

Samuel Gerald Collins is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Towson University. His research concerns cultural studies, the information society, and globalization in the United States and South Korea. At present, he is working on a book on "future cultures" in anthropology.

  • Anthropology
  • Future
  • Culture
  • Evolution
  • Cyborgs
Person as Subject
  • Mead, Margaret Marcuse, Herbert

(Virtual Presentation, English)