Productive Procrastination #36

Critical Futures Studies

Welcome back.

As one does on the Internet of Newsletters, these days, this newsletter has moved to Substack. The reason I’m following this trend is rather simple: I have been paying a monthly fee to be able to send you people a newsletter, which doesn’t really make sense with my current “release schedule.” Substack, as you surely know by now, has a different business model, taking 10 percent of paid subscriptions. So this works much better for me, right now, and leaves the option for the future to allow subscribers to chip in. Just to be clear: There is no paid option right now. If you’re not comfortable with this newsletter coming via Substack or if you want to unsubscribe for any other reason, always feel free to do so.

Take care

Johannes

PS: Archives of the old issues of this newsletter are still available at Revue.


Critical Futures Studies

I’m finishing up the third semester of the master’s program in futures research. This means, that I’m done with attending lectures for this study and can focus now on writing a couple of term papers and then the master thesis. 

In case you’re interested, here are the topics I’m writing about, right now:

  • Futures in the digital circular economy

  • Intersections of hermeneutical technology assessment and critical futures studies

The field of critical futures studies has been the most interesting to me in this program. It basically is about deconstructing current futures first instead of constructing new ones, right away. It has been heavily influenced by Sohail Inayatullah, who brought the post-structural thinking into futures and Richard Slaughter, was more inspired by Habermas and the hermeneutic tradition. 

I recently stumbled upon a new paper on “Critical Future Studies” (don’t get me started on the use of the singular, here): “Beyond Capitalist Realism” by Luke Goode & Michael Godhe. I quite enjoyed their fresh take on it and especially their transdisciplinary approach to the field. 

Here are a couple of quotes:

CFS aims to contribute constructively to vigorous and imaginative public debate about the future – a futural public sphere – and to challenge a prevalent contemporary cynicism about our capacity to imagine alternative futures while trapped in a parlous present.

The point of Critical Future Studies, in this view, is to defamiliarize unquestioned, sedimented or “common sense” discourses of the future, to shake them up in order to broaden the field of possibility.

Because the futures industry valorized technology above human agency as the object of its utopian gaze, this enabled it to enjoy a virtual monopoly on the utopian imagination during an era in which political utopias were discredited and even taboo. 

Whether through explicit or implicit reference, or through silence on the topic, visions of the future are always premised on assumptions about agency and the politics of change, and these too demand to be unpacked.

They provide a set of key questions to interrogate futures:

  • How is the future invoked?

  • What kind of future is evoked?

  • Who would want to live in such a future (and who would not)?

  • What sort of people live in such a future?

  • How are we expected to arrive at this future?

  • What is the persuasive power of such a vision?

  • What’s the history behind this vision of the future?

They also “pose questions about the conditions under which these texts are produced”: 

  • Who are the actors (institutions, individuals etc.) producing and propagating images of the future?

  • What are the institutional arrangements (from scientific institutes to popular and online media) shaping the circulation and discussion of images of the future?

  • How are ideas of the future discussed and contested in public life?

  • Who are the agenda-setting and gatekeeping powers in the futural public sphere?

  • What potential impact could this vision of the future have? 

One part, I like especially, is their concept of “future imaginaries”:

In our conception of CFS, it’s important to interrogate “future imaginaries”, that is, ideas about the future which, at least in some – usually powerful – quarters, become taken-for-granted or congealed discourses. […] automation, innovation and smart technologies are arguably other prominent examples of prevalent future imaginaries: it takes considerable imaginative effort, to envisage future without progressive automation, spectacular innovation or increasingly “intelligent” machines.

If this sounds interesting to you, I can highly recommend reading the paper. Also, mind that there is a follow-up. They curated a whole issue of the Culture Unbound Journal with articles reacting to and using their ideas. 

One quote fits my own personal interest in this field well: 

we propose CFS as a programme of engaged and open-ended social critique, not as a solely academic endeavour

What I’ve been focussing on and what my master thesis will be about, is taking the ideas and methods of critical futures studies and applying them to be used in organizational settings from companies to NGOs to political parties. I want to see more people thinking critically about the stories we tell each other about the future. And I want them to use these tools to create alternative futures to broaden the conversation and challenge the status quo. Once again, this is all about helping people to gain more agency. 

If this topic is in any way interesting to you, if you have opinions, recommendations, experiences, questions, please, get in contact. I’d love to talk to you about it. 

My current Internet of Newsletters

These are the ones that I found by scanning my email archives, which means they have sent an issue in the last couple of weeks.

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