Future Imaginaries from Goode and Godhe
While Lockton and Candy consider imaginaries from the perspective of applied futures studies and are primarily interested in their potential for methodological use, cultural studies scholars Luke Goode and Michael Godhe1 consider future imaginaries as an essential object of inquiry for critical futures studies (cf. chapter 1.4).
Goode and Godhe, who proclaim Critical Future Studies (CFS) as a new, interdisciplinary field of research, look to futures studies as media and cultural scholars “to foster a field of study (CFS) that sits both within and alongside the broader field of futures studies.”2 From this perspective, they criticize the prioritization of expert knowledge in futures studies and the widespread disinterest in culture as a factor influencing society’s ideas about the future.
They also see intersections with earlier approaches to critical futures studies, especially Inayatullah’s contributions to the critical deconstruction of futures and the values that influenced them (cf. chapter 2.1.3). However, as cultural scholars, they question Inayatullah’s strongly constructivist approach, “that the present (or, by extension, the future) represents the fragile victory of just one dominant discourse,”3 as it risks becoming a form of cultural determinism. Similar to Appadurai (cf. chapter 2.2.3), they argue for an approach in which the present, as well as the future, is shaped by competition of multiple discourses.3
In part, the distinctions between their definition of CFS and that of Inayatullah seem contrived, especially when they call for a “reconstructive turn,”4 which also plays an essential role in Inayatullah’s work – in contrast to what they present – especially as part of his method of causal layer analysis (cf. chapter 2.1.3). In this respect, their conception of CFS can be understood more as a further development of the research field than a reinvention.
It could also be interpreted as a deliberate attempt at reanimation at a time when alternative visions of the future are being reclaimed and re-emerging after two decades of “there is no alternative” neoliberalism, Fukuyama’s “End of History,” and a technological determinism promoted in particular by many “futurists.”5
“Glimpses of alternative (and better) futures can be found in every conceivable corner of public culture, from popular science to political activism, and these all merit our (critical) attention.”6
Goode and Godhe’s approach thus redefines critical futures studies for the current moment in time. It places the “futural public sphere”7 – the public discourse about the future – at the center of consideration. Where futures studies and their critical approaches focus – usually – on individual futures, Goode and Godhe shift it to the multiplicity of futures in the social context.
In addition to analyzing images of the future in this discourse, they also consider the “political economy of the future”8 – that is, the environment in which future images are created – part of the CFS perspective. This is where they bring Future Imaginaries into play.
“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.”9
Derived from Castoriadis and Taylor (cf. chapter 2.2), according to their understanding, an imagination becomes an imaginary if it is taken for granted and moves into the subconscious background (cf. Taylor in chapter 2.2.2) to influence and even control general behavior from there.
An interesting way to test whether a future expectation is a Future Imaginary can be derived from their identification of the Global Imaginary as a Future Imaginary:
“For our purposes, it is sufficient to acknowledge that this global imaginary also became a future imaginary, in the sense that it would require a conscious act of imagination to conceive the future as any other than an intensification of globalizing dynamics.”10
To generalize, whenever it takes a conscious act of imagination to envision a different future than the one being propagated, there is a high probability that one is dealing with a Future Imaginary. This brief thought experiment is among the easiest ways to identify a Future Imaginary. Here, the more difficult it seems to imagine an alternative future, the more established the prevailing image of the future is in society. In this respect, this test for identifying a Future Imaginary could also be modified to reflect on how high the resistance in social discourse would be if the taken-for-granted image of the future were to be questioned. The higher the (assumed) resistance, the higher the unconscious influence on daily thinking and acting.
However, this does not mean that the presence of critique calls into question a Future Imaginary. Goode and Godhe cite digitalization as an example of a Future Imaginary, which also includes dystopian expectations (expressed, for instance, in the TV series ‘Black Mirror’), but which does not question the inevitability of the Future Imaginary.10
As indicated above, Goode and Gohde are not solely concerned with the critical analysis of Future Imaginaries:
“But the point of drawing our critical attention to future imaginaries is not merely to dethrone, defamiliarize or loosen them. We see such deconstructive work as essential to CFS but also suggest that imaginaries can work not only to constrain future thinking but also positively as the semantic ground for expansive and potentially radical thinking.”10
By identifying and examining the Future Imaginaries, they can be brought out of the background and back into consciousness, thus “loosening” their anchoring in society’s expectations of the future. In addition, they can also be supplemented in a “reconstructive mode”11 by new alternative futures to reopen the horizon previously narrowed by the Future Imaginary. Goode and Godhe cite Ruth Levita’s ‘Utopia as a Method’12 to approach the possibilities of reconstruction.11
This interdisciplinarity – drawing on methods and perspectives from a wide variety of disciplines – is what makes Goode and Gohde’s approach particularly distinctive; also because it stands out from the partial compartmentalization vis-à-vis other disciplines that is particularly noticeable in German futures studies as it struggles to find its identity as a discipline (or interdisciplinary field of research).