What is at Stake in the Future? | Alex Williams & Nick Srnicek

Every ‘future’ inscribes a demand upon the present. This is so whether at the level of human imagination, or within the sphere of political or aesthetic action necessary to reach towards their realisation. Futures make explicit the implicit contents of our own times, crystallising trajectories, tendencies, projects, theories and contingencies. Moreover, futures map the absent within the present, the presents which could never come into actuality, the wreckage of dreams past and desires vanquished. Futures are speculative, libidinal, suggestive and, perhaps, ultimately unattainable.

In our work to date, and in particular ‘The Accelerationist Manifesto’ and Inventing the Future, we have positioned a particular orientation towards the futural as a key condition of possibility for a revivified left politics. Only under conditioning from some concept of the future can a programmatic, systematic, and ultimately hegemonic new political tendency be born. The manifesto-form is, in some sense, the embodiment of this futural orientation. It brings with it a particular mode of address: it declares, it declaims, it demands, and all in relation to some incipient future that it hopes to will into existence. The form is, in some senses, generative of its contents. The seeming impossibility of certainty in today’s political world, and in particular on the political left, renders the manifesto a slightly curious mode of address: just who would stand as prophets and pronounce the new world just beyond reach? Yet to do so is a (painful) necessity not because of the certainty of this or any other future, but because of the certainty of the persistence of the neoliberal alternative in the absence of attempts to move beyond the reactive and into the register of the prospective. More simply: we must begin to imagine alternatives to the present, however gauche, or risk the permanence of the trajectories of today.

In this context, the programmatic demands which we set out in Inventing the Future – demands for full automation, universal basic income, a reduction in the working week, and the wholesale destruction of the work ethic – take on a double role. On the one hand, they can function as a heuristic fiction (what elsewhere is described as a ‘hyperstition’). In this sense, their relative truth value (or feasibility) is less relevant than their ability to break down existing prejudices, shibboleths and received wisdoms amongst the various silos and tranches of the political left. In posing these demands, a future orientation might emerge which, even were it not to fully realise these demands, would functionally transform the horizons of leftist politics. On the other hand, we have chosen to present these particular demands and the future they entail, a post-work world, because we think it both eminently feasible and decidedly coherent. It is feasible precisely because of the way it anticipates and bootstraps beyond existing material tendencies: towards the automation, taskification, and precarity of work, and against a context of the increasing generation of surplus populations, and the seeming inability of neoliberal societies to generate the innovation and profitability for which they are allegedly promoted. The problem of automation and taskification of labour, for example, is now widely noted and expected to utterly transform the world of work in both advanced and developing economies over the next two decades. The demands are also coherent, in the sense that each relates to how a tendency, whether present (as in automation) or past (as in demands for shortening the working week) can lock in and re-inforce the other. Make progress on one of these demands and the others will become more possible. In this sense, the future we point towards is a navigational concept – enabling the construction of a feasible and coherent future in a time of transformation and uncertainty.

Such a navigational notion of a future is necessary if we are to move beyond the limitations of the political left of today. We lack the space to elaborate the full range of dissatisfactions with the range of leftist forces that took shape from the 1980s to the 2000s. What we can certainly point towards, however, are the consequences of the left’s abandonment and evacuation of the territory of the future. First, this is at the level of plans, programmes, and prospects. Here the left (or lefts) have relinquished the imaginative-libidinal terrain of the future. This can be identified across an entire range of different left-political phenomena, from the collapse of European social democratic parties, to the over-valorisation of critique in political academia, and in the widespread reactivity on the part of radical left campaigns and activists, always keener to prevent and protect against neoliberal incursions rather than propose and propound some viable alternatives. Second, however, is the more realist sense that the left’s capacity to determine (or influence) the course of the future has also declined. In practical terms, the prospects since the 1990s of a left capable of altering the direction of travel of large social, political, economic, and technical systems have been drastically reduced. In this sense, ‘the future’ has been abandoned by the left not just because it lacks the desire to design it, but also because of its declining hegemony, its relative weakness in the balance of forces. These two sides are reciprocally linked to one another. Just as the decline in hegemonic power emaciates the imagination, so too does the desertion of the optics of the future limit in advance the prospects of practical political activity.

Concurrent with these political development, the elaboration of speculative future narratives, and indeed, on some accounts, the future itself, was purported to have been banished with the advent of postmodernity. As Lyotard’s epochal definition puts it, we have grown suspicious of the metanarrative, and in its wake historical teleology and even grand-scaled meaning-making have collapsed into an impossible to summarise plurality of fractured, partially overlapping micro-events. There is of course some truth to these claims, yet as we argue, Lyotard moves too quickly to dismiss the mass belief in ‘the future’ and the big picture trajectory. What has disappeared is faith in the future in the more depressing sense of a better future, while looming dystopian perspectives, of a future of hyper-neoliberalisation, rising surplus populations, and environmental catastrophe have become all-too ubiquitous. Key political signifiers such as ‘modernisation’, for example, have become almost entirely subsumed within a neoliberal framework. The modernisation of an industry, workplace, or pursuit, today indicates privatisation, contracting out, rising precarity and declining wages.

The task of elaborating futures, both within the sphere of ideas and the domain of action, might be deemed on such a basis a classically modernist one. This is a frame which we partially endorse. Modernism’s emphasis on the future, on the possibility of human accomplishments to determine a better future, is certainly not to be abandoned. Yet we must admit to seeking a more complex relationship between the future and politics than the teleological fairy tales of Hegelian Marxism. History has demonstrated that we are as likely to see reversals, swerves, and collapses, as a constructive building towards universal human flourishing. So too is the world more plural, less unitary, and ultimately more complex than certain modernist strands of thought would present it. As such, while we believe that the recovery of certain dimensions of the historical modernist project are essential facets of creating a new leftism, it simultaneously requires us to reach towards something like Fernando Zalamea’s transmodernism: a synthetic universalism, dynamic, plural, and revisable, yet capable of moments of partial universalisation. Within such a perspective, the future or futures can operate as partial binding agents – motivating transitions, translations, and transplantations, creating momentary fixes and coherent trajectories within a broader flux. From another perspective futures here operate as complexly hegemonic operators – investing and re-engineering pre-existing fields of ideology and organisation.

The book, Inventing the Future, should be understood in this way. It is an attempt to knit together a series of partial perspectives into a more universal and hegemonic project, an attempt to make a reasoned argument for why a post-work world is both necessary and possible at this moment, and an effort to show how this intersects across a range of different existing movements. To achieve this, the book functions differently from the affective mobilisation involved in the manifesto-form, but it is no less directly political. It is ultimately a call for a post-work politics to be built by all those who feel convinced by its proposals. As such, the book has self-consciously moved away from the fashionable term ‘accelerationism’ and is an attempt to build a more long-standing political project.

Recent Posts

A Conversation about Ergonomic Futures

Lafayette Anticipation associate curator Anna Colin talks to artist Tyler Coburn about Ergonomic Futures, a speculative project engaged with art, design, science, anthropology and writing. In this interview, Coburn discusses the research, production process and network of collaborators of a multilayered project ultimately concerned with the futures of humankind. Anna Colin: When one comes across your museum seats Ergonomic Futures (2016—) in contemporary art exhibitions—and soon in natural history, fine art, and anthropology museums—they look… [read more »]

nils lange + saliva : l’eau des algues

L’Eau des Algues Two alchemists already aware of each other’s Instagrams meet for the first time in a gay sauna. They are swimming; it’s the Hood By Air afterparty in Paris. They are Lukas Hofmann and Nils Amadeus Lange. Months later, they meet again. They are on the edge of yet another steaming pool; it’s the Manifesta Biennale closing event at Cabaret Voltaire. They are performing the perfume titled “L’eau des Algues.” Head notes: Zürich… [read more »]

Toward a Low Key Voting System Where Votes Are Actually Considered | Adrian Massey

While reading A Very Short Introduction to Game Theory, I came across the following passage, “If you want people to vote, we need to move to a more decentralized system in which every vote really does count enough to outweigh the lack of enthusiasm for voting which so many people obviously feel…Simply repeating the slogan that ‘every vote counts’ isn’t ever going to work, because it isn’t true.” I was jarred. For me, anecdotally knowing… [read more »]

Tough Luck | Tyler Reinhard

When life is being super unfair, just do what we all do: suffer the consequences. I wake up and the first thing I do is check my phone. A convenient euphemism for using Facebook’s machine learning techniques to discover which 300 entries are statistically most likely to stand out from the tens of thousands of brain dumps my friends and family have produced over the last 48 hours. Impressed by what Facebook provides, I think… [read more »]

America Is Hard to See: A Guide to not being depressed about US electoral politics this November

In order to make sense of state politics in the birthplace of statistical marketing and the internet, one has to be wary of the effects of these technologies on the country’s popular media. In a time when our news and advertisements are tailored to our pre-recorded political opinions, it can be especially difficult to empathize with differing political views. Likewise, learning about the histories of state politics is not encouraged by platforms that profit from… [read more »]

On self-care and the election | Eva Saelens

We can get together and laugh about it. We can heave sighs and express disbelief, but it’s never enough. This presidential election year has lasted for years, and they sit on citizens like a slick film. We feel touched by an unshakable germ, invaded by a blood-sucker, afflicted by a social cancer, drained of the plump vitality of life and the amazing liberty of choices, and transformed into a cynical, depressed shrivel. After being touched… [read more »]

Swarovski Crystal Meth at National Sawdust

Swarovski Crystal Meth, a collaboration between Ser Serpas, Daniela Czenstochowski and Gia Garrison for the National Sawdust “Selkie Series” performances, curated by Alexandra Marzella. Music composed and produced by Daniela Czenstochowski Poem by Sera Serpas Sound Edit Mateo Majluf Vocals Sera Serpas, Gia Garrison and Daniela Czenstochowski All Images Olimpia Dior i went to the desert con mi mama outlet store shopping is fried onto mi conciensa, big bags, wins bigger losses fragmented lux economy… [read more »]

Hasbeens and Willbees Auction @ Romeo Gallery

Shop items from the most recent Hasbeens and Willbees luxury auction now! Featuring Bjarne Melgaard, Bror August, Women’s History Museum, Lou Dallas, Hermes, Gautier, and more. All photography Dillon Sachs Styling Avena Gallagher Hosted by Rome Gallery NYC


What is a piece of clothing that “works”? Who is working whom? Is the one who poses the one who actually “works” hardest? The S/S 2017 collection of Berlin-based, Swedish- Vietnamese designer NHU DUONG entitled ‘WORK COLLECTION’ plays with the ideas of professionalism, leisure and appropriateness through a range of garments that are inspired by work outfits and hobby uniforms. Overalls, raw denim outfits, kung-fu pyjamas, biker pants, baggy tights and gloves, bomber-jackets, bomber suits,… [read more »]

Preparing to Welcome the Chthulucene | Agustina Zegers

Preparing to Welcome the Chthulucene is a text made up of living exercises to accompany Haraway’s theorization of the Chthulucene and her upcoming book Staying With the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Haraway posits that not only should we name the Anthropocene carefully (including the terms Capitalocene and Plantationocene within its narrative) but that we should also be using this crucial ecological timeframe to move towards a dynamically multi-species, “sym-chtonic“, sym-poietic future: the Chthulucene.… [read more »]