1st Edition

Anthropological Optimism Engaging the Power of What Could Go Right

Edited By Anna J. Willow Copyright 2023
    222 Pages 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    222 Pages 10 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book theorizes the roles of optimism in anthropological thinking, research, writing, and practice. It sets out to explore optimism’s origins and implications, its conceptual and practical value, and its capacity to contribute to contemporary anthropological aims. In an era of extensive ecological disruption and social distress, this volume contemplates how an optimistic anthropology can energize the discipline while also contributing to bettering the lives, communities, and environments of those we study. It brings together scholars diverse in background, career stage, and theoretical approach in a collective attempt to comprehend the myriad intersections of anthropology and optimism. The challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have recently underscored the larger, longer-term catastrophes of climate change, ecosystemic collapse, social injustice, and antipathy toward scientific knowledge and those who produce it. In this context, exceedingly few anthropologists feel comfortable observing and documenting passively while their research communities face unrelenting waves of (un)natural disasters. We need to act. But we also need to hope. Discontent with the state of the world and cultural anthropology’s turn to increasingly positive, future-oriented, and engaged work have converged to unleash a courageously optimistic anthropology. This book is a timely springboard for this impactful and emergent approach.


    Joel Robbins

    Introduction: Why Optimism

    Anna J. Willow

    1. A World Made Safe for (Future) Difference: Anthropology and Utopian Possibility

    Samuel Gerald Collins

    2. Vertiginous Optimism: Optimistic Orientations in a Field of Chronic Crisis

    Daniel M. Knight

    3. "Moving On and Moving Up": Productive Angles of Exploring Optimism

    Kelly A. Yotebieng

    4. Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: Planting Optimism in a Disrupted Ecology

    Man-kei Tam

    5. Indigenous Optimism in the Colonialcene

    Natasha Myhal and Clint Carroll

    6. Putting the Pieces in Place: Optimistic Futuring in Transition Culture

    Anna J. Willow

    7. Optimism at Scale: Exploring Everyday Activism in Atlanta’s Alternative Food Networks

    Hilary B. King

    8. Fusing Outrage and Hope into Acts of Resistance, Volunteerism, and Allyships

    Patricia Widener and Gail Choate

    9. Optimistic Anthropology in the Work of Systems Changemakers

    Alison Gold

    10. China 2060: Envisioning a Human-Centered Approach to Energy Transition

    Bryan Tilt

    11. Doing Anthropology Forward: Emerging Technologies and Possible Futures

    Sarah Pink

    Afterword: Optimism as Capacity

    Rebecca Bryant



    Anna J. Willow is Professor of Anthropology at The Ohio State University, USA.