In mid-April the School of Anthropology and Conservation hosted a four-day symposium bringing together scholars specialising in Timor-Leste studies. A leading question of the symposium was: how do the assumptions people have about the future shape the way they govern their local and national resources? This question is particularly relevant in Timor-Leste, where visions of the future, including visions of independence, freedom and self-determination, but also visions of wealth and prosperity, have long inspired actions in the present and where new nationalist and hyper-modernist visions have emerged in recent years.
The focus of the symposium was not exclusively on state visions of the future, but it also sought to tease out the various religious, economic and political ways in which the expectations of the future in Timor-Leste motivate action in the present. The contributions sought to develop a critical perspective of current developments, while also acknowledging the potential and desire for change implicit in various initiatives. The participants commented on the exceptionally open and positive atmosphere of the symposium, which allowed those who attended to think creatively about the challenges of development and prosperity in Timor-Leste.
Sixteen different research articles were discussed, including three keynote speeches on the first day, given by Douglas Kammen (University of Singapore), Gute Neves (Australian National University) and Maj Nyggard-Christensen (Aarhus University). The symposium had an interdisciplinary perspective, bringing together social anthropologists, political scientists, geographers and historians. Research participants travelled far and wide to attend the symposium; they came from Timor-Leste, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, the United States and the United Kingdom. An edited volume is in preparation.