Components of Future Imaginaries

This article is part of my Master’s Thesis - Future Imaginaries. Previous Chapter: 3.2.1 Characteristics of Future Imaginaries

By bringing together the terms ‘futures’ from futures studies and ‘imaginaries’ from sociology and anthropology, several considerations regarding the components of future imaginaries can be derived.

It can be observed that, especially in the context of imaginaries, there is no uniform description of components but only approximations. Among other things, this might have to do with the location of imaginaries in the background understanding, where imaginaries – as described – largely elude a theory-based consideration.

Considered as images of the future, Future Imaginaries can theoretically consist of the knowledge components and premises listed by Grunwald. They can thus contain present knowledge as a basis on which assessments of future developments within the future image are built. In addition, there are ceteris paribus conditions and ad hoc assumptions.

Here, a certain recursivity of future imaginaries emerges because, first, they are future images themselves, solidifying societal expectations of the future. Then they, in turn, become components of other future images in society. They are incorporated as premises into future images on their respective topic and thus shape the framework of imaginable futures. A possible consequence of this insight would be to add Future Imaginaries to Grunwald’s components of futures and, therefore, consider them deliberately when examining the validity of statements about the future.

However, since they elude direct analysis - as described above - they can only be examined in the form of their manifestation as narratives and actions. Here, the three elements that can be found in imaginaries, according to Patomäki and Steger, are helpful: Prototypes, Metaphors, and Framings (cf. chapter 2.3.2). Examining the images of the future and actions in society on a topic for these elements can provide information about the underlying Future Imaginary.

Also helpful in approaching the components of a Future Imaginary are the three types of knowledge in cultural models cited by Strauss: a prototype, examples, and background understanding or implicit theory (see section 2.3.3).

Based on Strauss, researchers Cantó-Milà and Seebach1 developed a future-related coding approach to analyze autobiographical interviews:

  1. As ‘imaginaries of the future,’ they understand symbolic universes composed of different figures and narratives about the future. These serve as a ‘general framework’ for placing figures and images of the future in the larger context of cultural and social discourses and actions.
  2. As ‘images of the future,’ they identify the concrete images that the interviewees expressed. They refer to their hopes, fears, and other emotions. They describe the what of the individual future imaginary.
  3. Following Marc Augé2, they use the concept of ‘figures’ to describe the how of Future Imaginaries. This involves the form in which respondents present their future imaginaries. The elements mentioned above, such as prototypes, metaphors, and framings, can be linked here.

The conclusion of their consideration makes clear that the described characteristic of Future Imaginaries cannot be captured directly:

“If the figures and images that have been presented are combined together, the contours of the imaginaries of the future can finally be traced.”

They can only be approached by analyzing the manifestations.

Following Lockton and Candy, Future Imaginaries can also be understood as brackets (cf. chapter 2.3.4) that collect different knowledge components and elements such as prototypes, metaphors, and framings.

Next Chapter: 3.2.3 Roles of future imaginaries

  1. Cantó-Milà, N., & Seebach, S. (2015). Desired images, regulating figures, constructed imaginaries: The future as an apriority for society to be possible. Current Sociology, 63(2), 198–215. 

  2. Augé, M. (2004). Oblivion. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 

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