Punitive futurity and speculative time

Jane Elliott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This essay examines longstanding, widely circulated arguments regarding blocked futurity in relation to emerging forms of temporal experience associated with financialization. From ambivalent conservative accounts of the ‘end of history’ to the grim repetition diagnosed on the Left as ‘capitalist realism’, divergent accounts of post-1960s culture have focused on what I call ‘static time’, or an experience of time in which human agency is no longer operative because meaningful change cannot be created. Although versions of static time continue to proliferate in academic discourse, liquidity and financialization produce forms of individual temporality that operate very differently. When we make the conceptual parameters of static time explicit, I suggest, it becomes more possible to read for the forms of temporalized human action that these parameters may prevent us from noticing. These forms include what I call suffering agency, or the experience of individually chosen, consequential human action as horrific and unwelcome, and life-interest, or the production of individual binary decisions made in relation to survival. Rather than being inaccessible or unshaped by human efficacy, the future here bears down in the form of negative results directly caused and deliberately chosen by the individual in question. In this form of ‘punitive futurity’, individuals experience temporalized forms of distress keyed to the willed unfolding of their own choices over time. By reading punitive futurity in relation to what Lisa Adkins calls ‘speculation as a rationality’, I argue that this temporal form serves as an increasingly crucial means by which individuals experience their subjection within contemporary capital.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • capitalist realism
  • economics
  • end of history
  • Fredric Jameson
  • long down-turn
  • Speculation
  • world systems theory


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