The interdisciplinary project Inherited Futures? Objects, Time, Knowledge investigates inheritance as a process of passing down objects to reproduce collectives and institutions into the future. It does so against the backdrop of an historical paradox: between growing investments in inheritance predicated on liberal conceptions of political subjecthood, genealogical continuity, and durable attachments to land, territory, and identity on the one hand, and an increasing sense of futures displaced and threatened by climate change, technological transformation, the fragility of the global political order, and large-scale migration on the other hand. The project draws on rich anthropological and historical studies of inheritance as a social practice, and the norms, institutions and values that shape the transmission of property, resources, rights, and obligations across generations. Likewise, it builds on how anthropologists and historians have attended to the ways in which individuals and societies orient themselves towards, desire and imagine futures, and explained under which conditions the making of futures is put into question, suspended, or undermined. Consolidating these perspectives, the project ties inheriting and futuring together, and turns towards the problem of time and temporality by way of understanding struggles over inherited things as struggles over epochal ruptures, moments of crisis, (re)orientation in space and time, and being and becoming. Our concern with these dynamics informs the project’s main research interest, methods, and outcomes. The research foregrounds objects, understood as knots of social practice and social knowledge, in order to shed light on the complexities of ‘inherited futures’ across social terrains, temporalities, cultural imaginaries, epistemologies, scales of inquiry and affective economies. The studies proposed illuminate multiple ways of paying attention to things - highlighting the social life of objects and their embeddedness in social relations and practice, and acknowledging the ways in which individuals and societies care for, reconstitute, and reimagine what they inherit. Grounded in ethnographic and archival research in Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, and negotiating approaches from anthropology, history and African Studies, the project pursues a strategy of thinking across disciplinary, epistemological, historical, and cultural spaces to decenter established modes of knowledge production and interrogate inherited paradigms of regional boundedness in order to attend to the shifting material grounds of subjectivity, belonging and historical imagination.

The project is funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant number 219800), hosted by the Center for African Studies at the University of Basel.