Key questions in critical futures studies

At the heart of Critical Futures Studies (CFS), as articulated by Sohail Inayatullah, lies the endeavor to “loosen the future.” Instead of creating new images of the future (in the form of scenarios, for example), the goal is first to identify and deconstruct the images of the future that are already there, in the room and the minds. Picture yourself watching the latest keynote from the likes of Zuckerberg or Altman. You hear them declare, “This is the future!” and you might start wondering, “Wait? Why? And why do you want me to believe this is the future?” Welcome to CFS. It begins with asking questions.

In their fresh look at CFS in Beyond Capitalist Realism, [[ Luke Goode, Michael Godhe|Goode and Godhe ]] suggested a foundational set of questions aimed at critically evaluating specific future visions.

Question to ask of a specific future:

  • How is the future invoked?
  • What kind of future is evoked?
  • Who would want to live in such a future (and who would not)?
  • What sort of people live in such a future?
  • How are we expected to arrive at this future?
  • What is the persuasive power of such a vision?
  • What’s the history behind this vision of the future?

Furthermore, Goode and Godhe propose an additional framework for analyzing the broader context in which these future images emerge, termed the “political economy of the future”:

Questions to ask of the “political economy of the future”

  • Who are the actors (institutions, individuals etc.) producing and propagating images of the future?
  • What are the institutional arrangements (from scientific institutes to popular and online media) shaping the circulation and discussion of images of the future?
  • How are ideas of the future discussed and contested in public life?
  • Who are the agenda-setting and gatekeeping powers in the futural public sphere?
  • What potential impact could this vision of the future have?

These questions are tremendously helpful in my work and even my everyday life. From client meetings to reading tech news, they provide a guideline to identify underlying assumptions, values, and motivations for rendering future narratives in particular ways. They reveal that most images of the future will tell you very little about the actual future but vast amounts about the interests and intentions of their proponents (Present futures).

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