Toward the end of the twentieth century, the Cold War ended, and globalization became a key word in public discourse. In the new situation people could ask, with relief or anxiety, what might happen next. So a small but lively intellectual industry rose to the challenge, creating scenarios for a born-again world. As the world turned, there would be more of them. With 9/11 there was another wave of global commentary. There were hot wars in Central Asia and the Middle East, and then, with economic upheavals spreading rather unevenly over the world, there were shifts in the global centers of gravity. This again generated more scenarios for the world. Often, the future visions could be encapsulated in striking catchphrases: the end of history, the clash of civilizations, jihad versus McWorld, soft power, and others. The Eric Wolf Lecture of 2014 scrutinizes world scenarios as a genre of creative writing but also considers their role as a set of representations of the world that are now circulated, received, and debated in a worldwide web of social relationships. As a contemporary sociocultural phenomenon, the scenarios come out of a zone of knowledge production where academia, media, and politics meet. The authors are global public intellectuals. While anthropology has contributed little to them directly, these writings deserve attention for the way they offer the Big Picture of the world and, at times, for their use of cultural understandings.
2015. Vol. 56, no 6, 797-818 p.