The possibility of possibility: between ethnography and social theory

Daniel M. Knight*, Gabriela Manley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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This paper considers how ‘the possibility of possibility’ as freedom of choice and audacious obligation toward newness found in philosophical works of such scholars as Søren Kierkegaard and Michel Serres is tempered by socio-historical circumstance. Ethnographic material from Scotland and Greece demonstrates contrasting ways that possibilities are impacted by the various timespaces that open or foreclose pathways to the future. Possibility shapes notions of the Self and Society since people are propelled to (in)action by way of recurring and reinterpreted pasts, are pulled through futural horizons in present-day practice, or become stuck on the threshold of becoming. In the context of the independence movement in Scotland, possibility plays an active role in political life of independence campaigners with a feedback loop between past-present-future providing momentum to actualise the possible. In Greece, a decade of crisis has foreclosed previously possible futures with people feeling stuck in a repeating spin-cycle where horizons of the possible cannot be crossed. The ethnographic examples showcase how the multiplicities of human life affect the possibility of possibility and how visions of the elsewhere, elsewhen, and otherwise emerge in more or less ‘positive’ scenarios.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)118-126
Number of pages9
JournalPossibility Studies & Society
Issue number1-2
Early online date21 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2023


  • Michel Serres
  • Søren Kierkegaard
  • Anthropology
  • Temporality
  • Possibility
  • Ethnography


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