Imaginaries from Lockton and Candy

This article is part of my Master’s Thesis - Future Imaginaries. Previous Chapter: 2.3.3 Sociotechnical Imaginaries from Jasanoff

While Jasanoff and Kim’s Sociotechnical Imaginaries operate at the intersection of STS and the social and political sciences, Dan Lockton and Stuart Candy are interested in the crossover between design and futures studies as part of their work for the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University. They focus on aspects of applied futures studies. In recent years, for example, Candy – with Kornet – has coined the methodological framework of [[ Experiential Futures ]], which aims to provide actors with an experience-oriented approach to probable and desirable futures.1 Lockton (et al.), in turn, developed a workshop and design method called ‘New Metaphors.’2

In their article ‘A Vocabulary for Visions in Designing for Transitions,’ Dan Lockton and Stuart Candy have brought together various concepts to expand the vocabulary for working with “visions of sustainable futures.”3 They refer to these concepts as ‘lenses’ in the sense of optics and use them as a metaphor for viewing human behavior from different perspectives.4

The metaphor ‘lens’ makes it possible to examine an object of observation from different angles without having to decide on one or having to clearly classify the object of observation. Each lens shifts the focal point and brings other details into focus.

The first lens Lockton and Candy introduce for dealing with futures is imaginaries. They see the term as a bracket that ranges from societal expectations and collective visions for issues such as climate change to mental models of, for example, designers, citing many of the theorists mentioned in this paper (Appadurai, Anderson, Jasanoff). They use imaginaries primarily as a catch-all term for different types of imaginations that include associations and metaphors.

They emphasize the thesis that “imaginaries of futures can affect people’s actions in the present”5 and explicitly refer to Polak (see chapter 2.1.2). In this respect, they confirm the observations and linkages of futures with imaginaries made in this thesis.

Their lack of precision in the theoretical consideration might be due to the fact that their focus is on the application of Future Imaginaries. They see the potential of Imaginaries primarily as a reflection tool in processes with groups.

“As a process, investigating imaginaries starts by engaging with, and seeking to understand, people’s existing collective or individual conceptions of their situation; how the systems around them work, from their perspective; and what mindsets accompany those conceptions […]. Then, through externalising those imaginaries, or making them tangible or engageable-with, a community has the opportunity to reflect on and learn about its own thinking.”6

This process manifests an interesting feature of imaginaries: Imaginaries have to be externalized in order for a community to think about them. This confirms the hypothesis that imaginaries are largely unconscious and above all unreflected ideas that are not perceived as such in everyday life. Only externalization makes them accessible.

“Turning from this general process to consider futures imaginaries more specifically; surfacing a community’s expectations, aspirations and beliefs about its own prospects can inform the development of deeper and more robust visions –while being firmly planted in and cognisant of the contexts and cultures where those imaginaries are found.”6

This paragraph summarizes the initial hypothesis of this thesis (see chapter 1). The identification and externalization of a community’s future expectations enables the development of alternative futures that lie outside the perceived framework of possible futures. These future expectations are shaped by the culture in which they were formed. It is not easy to separate individual and collective expectations of the future. That is why Lockton and Candy’s methodological thinking places the identification and externalization of Future Imaginaries at the beginning of a process that ends with alternative futures (cf. Candy’s ‘Ethnographic Experiential Futures’ process7).

“Using the lens of imaginaries helps to sensitise both ourselves and others to the functioning and dynamics of what and how we imagine the systems we are in, as they are and as the might be.”8

By understanding Future Imaginaries as a lens, Lockton and Candy have provided a relevant template for their use in looking at futures, which is primarily aimed at applied futures studies.

Next Chapter: Future Imaginaries from Goode and Godhe

  1. Candy, S., & Kornet, K. (2017). A Field Guide to Ethnographic Experiential Futures. 

  2. Lockton, D., Singh, D., Sabnis, S., Chou, M., Foley, S., & Pantoja, A. (2019). New Metaphors: A Workshop Method for Generating Ideas and Reframing Problems in Design and Beyond. In Proceedings of the 2019 on Creativity and Cognition - C&C ’19 (S. 319–332), San Diego, CA, USA: ACM Press. 

  3. Lockton, D., & Candy, S. (2019). A vocabulary for visions in designing for transitions. Cuadernos del Centro de Estudios en Diseño y Comunicación [Ensayos], (73), 27–49, p. 28 

  4. cf. ibid., p. 28 

  5. ibid., p. 30 

  6. ibid., p. 31  2

  7. Candy and Kornet 2017 

  8. Lockton und Candy 2019, p. 32 

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