Future Imaginaries from Cook

This article is part of my Master’s Thesis - Future Imaginaries. Previous Chapter: 2.2.3 Imaginaries from an anthropological perspective

Julia Cook is a research fellow at the University of Melbourne in Australia. For her Ph.D., she interviewed 28 young adults in Melbourne in 2014 about their long-term expectations for the future. She wanted to investigate how young adults deal with the “pervasive uncertainty of the long-term, societal future.”1

She observed that the statements were based on broadly similar ideas about how the world will develop in the future.

“[T]he respondents’ imaginings of the future conformed to remarkably similar themes throughout the sample. Specifically, their perceptions appeared to either align with or be formed in reference to a dominant account of the future as a space of decline.”2

It was noticeable that the participants did not give any reason for their future expectations if they were not asked directly.

“It appeared that […] the majority of the respondents did not connect their concerns for the future back to what they perceived to be their root causes not because they were unable to do so, but because they felt that their concerns were widely shared, and their source was commonly and implicitly understood.”3

So the young adults not only share a negative expectation of the future. The triggers for this development also seem so obvious and collectively understood to them that they no longer need to be explicitly mentioned.

Cook compares this collective expectation of the future, which does not need to be explained with the concept of Imaginaries as described by Taylor (cf. chapter 2.2). For her, the crucial features are that an Imaginary is collectively shared and contains a factual as well as a normative dimension.4 Since expectations related directly to the future, Cook refers to them as “future imaginaries.”5

However, Cook discovers not just one overarching Future Imaginary in the interviewees’ statements, but two. She calls the first one a “decline-based imaginary.”6 It describes the expectation of a continuous decline of society until its final collapse. It contains both the factual dimension of the expected decline and normative aspects that are strongly fed by the Christian worldview of the apocalypse.

The second imaginary that Cook identifies shares the factual dimension with the first in the expectation of an increasingly deteriorating overall situation, but supplements it with a normative hope in the resilience of humans to survive even this challenge. Cook calls this expectation of the future, which was shared by some but not all interviewees, the “alternative future imaginary.”6

In the further course of her investigation, Cook compares the two identified Future Imaginaries with the future theories of various social theorists from Castoriadis to Giddens and the Accelerationists to Beck. In doing so, she notes that these correspond primarily with the “decline-based imaginary.”7

Without explicitly mentioning Strauss or psychological anthropology (cf. chapter 2.2.3), Cook took the person-centered approach by examining young people’s concrete expectations for the future.

Next Chapter: Fictional Expectations from Beckert

  1. Cook, J. (2018). Imagined Futures: Hope, Risk and Uncertainty. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 2 

  2. ibid., p. 56 

  3. ibid., p. 57 

  4. cf. ibid., p. 76 

  5. ibid., p. 74 

  6. ibid., p. 75  2

  7. cf. ibid., p. 91 

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