Paper – From Critique to Cultural Recovery

A monograph by [[ José M. Ramos ]] titled From Critique to Cultural Recovery – Critical futures studies and Causal Layered Analysis (PDF)

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Critical futures studies, as an intellectual practice that aims to critique reified and oppressive social structures and destructive cultural traits […]

Critical futures is not about the careers of a few scholars, rather it is about projects that transcend the narrow boundaries of the self. These projects range from creating a sustainable society and sustainable world for future generations, to creating futures of gender equality, to addressing the ‘civilisational challenge’, envisioning a peaceful ‘Gaia of civilisations’, and otherwise opening up spaces for popular participation in creating alternative futures. […]

Chapter 1 on [[ Richard Slaughter ]]

Critical futures studies can be understood as studies of futures that take as a primary consideration the analysis and reformulation of the way we know our world (epistemology), worldview and the social construction of reality […]

While working on his PhD, from 1978 to 1982, Slaughter began to see Futures Studies as a mixed bag of elements and ideological interests, many of which were non-reflexive; that is, epistemologically blind to their own grounding and their own framing assumptions […]

Through gradual familiarisation with the field, Slaughter began to see how knowledge about the future was particularly ‘situated’ in cultural contexts. Most were not consciously situated, but ‘operating out of unexamined worldviews’. Furthermore he found that ‘far from imagining a universe of alternatives, futurism in general – and forecasting in particular – has in the past appeared to play a significant part in the support of the status quo’. This rendered much futures work ineffective. […]

Speculative imagination, not reductive science, would help individuals in ‘imaginative constructions [to] take the human mind out beyond the boundaries of currently constituted reality – beyond trends, forecasts and the like – and feed our capacities for speculation, imagination and social innovation’. […]

Becoming ‘critical’ therefore suggested a pathway toward emancipatory futures thinking. In general, ‘critical’ would come to work in two ways. First, it would be used as critique in the generic sense of the word providing a way of, in Slaughter’s words, ‘clearing the fog’. That is, a ‘ground clearing, diagnostic phase, a prelude to the exploration of new territory…[it is] also about standards and quality control, both of which are vital to an emerging discipline’.

Second, ‘critical’ would be understood in terms of critical theory – a way out of the trap of a ‘monological’ and ‘technical-instrumental’ approach to the future – one capable of breaking people out of the perpetual slumber of the status quo. Critical was a way of renegotiating meaning at a deep philosophic level, opening to the possibility of exploring other paradigms, epistemes, and culturally situated ways of knowing. Critique could be seen as the praxis of problematising existing social arrangements and assumptions regarding the future. ‘Critical’ would be a way of breaking the mould of historically reified ways of being, to open up alternatives futures otherwise obscured. […]

Slaughter’s critical futures is not about ‘blueprints’ for the future, but about opening up spaces to alternative epistemes, cultural worldviews, discourses and hence about opening up pathways to substantively alternative futures beyond what’s currently offered through mainstream ‘pop’ and ‘problem oriented’ futures work, scenarios and the like.

Chapter 2 on Sohail Inayatullah and the [[ Causal Layered Analysis ]] (CLA)

His experiences revealed both ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ elements. Horizontal refers to plurality of discourse/worldview/episteme that give rise to the categories we live in day to day (often the expression of power/ideological interests). This is ‘the post-modern turn’ that reveals how reality is mediated by cultural inter-subjective factors. The vertical, on the other hand, refers to depth, the existence of structures and layers that underlie one’s social and cultural existence. These two patterns are in tension and challenge each other. […]

In contrast to a technical science that created ‘universal’ ‘laws’ of ‘nature’ beyond cultural and individual subjectivity, culture is where we all exist, and how we know the world. An analysis and understanding of the particular patterns that exist within human communities made sense. Layered analysis would become one method through which to derive a depth understanding of culture. […]

An understanding of ‘deep civilisational codes’ could allow one to get past the confusing day-to-day affairs (litany) and official national positions/policy (social analysis) to understand larger patterns […]

For Foucault, geneology was about uncovering the marginalised discourses, ignored theories, dissenting opinions and local knowledge that has not been institutionalised as valid knowledge. It was to make apparent the historical and political struggles that have occurred in the valorisation of knowledge. For Inayatullah’s future-oriented CLA, this means an inquiry into the genealogies of the future(s); what knowledge is privileged and what knowledge is silenced, what discourses have been successful in constituting the present and what are alternative discourses for alternative futures. […]

The Journal of Technological Forecasting and Social Change first rejected the paper on CLA: ‘the referees could not understand a word of it’. Although Inayatullah asked the editor for his opinion, he refused to engage him. When he finally sent it to Futures, it was accepted and given a good response. This was in 1998. […]

A proposition that one might make is that CLA is not about a methodology, but about opening up spaces to alternative epistemes, cultural worldview, discourses and hence opening up pathways to substantively alternative futures from what is currently offered through mainstream ‘pop’ and ‘problem oriented’ scenarios and the like.

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