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Today, as in pre-modern times, the way we think about human generations and their passage is closely connected to our understanding of the ground. We tend nowadays to think of the ground as a layer, the latest in a series of strata, laid one over the other in chronological succession to form a stack, with older layers below and newer ones above. And we think of generations in the same way: they too are supposed to stack up, with each new generation supplanting its predecessor. There can be no rejuvenation, in this scenario, save by obliterating the old, and replacing it with the new, only for the latter to be replaced in its turn. Yet this stratigraphic conception of the ground, and of generations, is the result of a peculiarly modern conversion on the present by which, instead of following our predecessors into the future, we turn our backs upon them, consigning them to the past while facing a future heading towards us. What would happen were we to undo this conversion? Then, just as the farmer turns the soil in the agricultural cycle, bringing up the depths while burying the surface, so with human generations, ancestral generations would hold the promise of future rejuvenation. Like the ground, generations in their passage would not stack up but turn. Might this model restore hope for generations to come?
Tim Ingold, CBE, FBA, FRSE is Professor Emeritus of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. He has carried out fieldwork among Saami and Finnish people in Lapland, and has written on environment, technology and social organisation in the circumpolar North, on animals in human society, and on human ecology and evolutionary theory. His more recent work explores environmental perception and skilled practice. Ingold’s current interests lie on the interface between anthropology, archaeology, art and architecture. His recent books include The Perception of the Environment (2000), Lines (2007), Being Alive (2011), Making (2013), The Life of Lines (2015), Anthropology and/as Education (2018), Anthropology: Why it Matters (2018), Correspondences (2020) and Imagining for Real (2022). His next book, The Rise and Fall of Generation Now, will be published in December 2023. Ingold is a Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 2022 he was made a CBE for services to Anthropology.