A series of recent anthropological studies on time emphasize the crucial importance of the future as a guiding trope in the present. Although located beyond an immediate temporal horizon, the future is consequently taken as connected to the present in a meaningful way through a sequence of chronological moments and hence potentially accessible. This paper takes its point of departure from the growing body of anthropological work on time and futurity, but challenges the inherent assumption of linearity characterizing the relation between present and future. Based on fieldwork carried out in Maputo, Mozambique, it examines the non-linear temporalities of house-building. According to house-builders living on the fringes of the city, the future constitutes a temporal position from where the present might be properly illuminated. However, when seen from the present, the future surprisingly seems to reflect its own inevitable collapse, thus making it crucial to maintain appropriate distance between the two. Whereas the imagined perspective from the future suggests an immediate readability of the present, the inverse temporal gaze (i.e. from the present) reflects the radical uncanniness of the future. Still, although prefigured as a failure at the end-point on a linear scale, the future asserts itself by opening up the present. It wedges itself within the present moment and establishes temporal differentiations without indicating a progressing trajectory. In a peculiar inversion of conventional linearity, the present becomes the effect of the future rather than vice versa.
Royal Anthropological Institute. Journal, 2014, Vol 20, p. 166-182