This article is part of my Master’s Thesis - Future Imaginaries. Previous Chapter: 3.3.1 Metaphor

The challenge of distinguishing between myths and future imaginaries begins with the fact that both terms are inherently vague and that myths have been and continue to be variously defined and interpreted over time and across disciplines. Polak already explicitly points out the “increasing divergence of opinions concerning the concepts of myth and mythology” in ‘The Image of the Future.’1

In his historical analysis of the significance of images of the future, myths repeatedly play an essential role, especially in the early epochs. For him, myths and images of the future are closely interwoven. He sees myths as the first forms of expression of images of the future:2

“It is in the myth that the split personality first succeeds in conceiving the Other world and crystallizing its image of the future.”3

Beckert supports this point:

“Traditional societies viewed the future as part of a circular repetition of events whose occurrence was often cognitively represented through myths.”4

Inayatullah also deals with myths again and again. Thus, in his first article on critical futures studies in 1990, in the context of the inspiration by the concept of stories described in chapter 2.1.3, he already refers to the fact that “stories are more sensitive to unconscious processes, to myths.”5

In his CLA, Inayatullah has given a firm place to the myths together with the metaphors as the deepest level of contemplation. There he outlines them as …

“… the deep stories, the collective archetypes, the unconscious dimensions of the problem or the paradoxes […]. This level provides a gut/emotional level experience to the worldview under inquiry. The language used is less specific, more concerned with evoking visual images, with touching the heart instead of reading the head.”6

His five archetypal images of the future (cf. chapter 2.1.3) again point to an understanding of myths propagated by C.G. Jung, which shows great similarities to Imaginaries. Jung understands myths as a …

“… mirror of the collective unconscious or the basic structures of human soul life, which express themselves in archetypes that are supra-temporal and common to different cultures.”7

Here a possible distinction between imaginaries and myths can be seen. While imaginaries are, according to Taylor, part of the “collective unconscious,” myths are, as quoted, “mirrors” of this very thing. They belong to the forms by which Imaginaries, among others, manifest themselves. That is why, for Inayatullah, they are on a par with metaphors: as formats of expression of the unconscious. They do so in the form of “narratives that create meaning in the listener.”7

If myths and metaphors belong to the formats of expression of Future Imaginaries, the hypothesis can be derived that Future Imaginaries could represent a kind of fifth level in CLA. This level no longer has its own expressive formats but can only be traced through the expressive forms in the fourth level. With this further level, it would be possible to ask which Future Imaginaries are expressed with the identified myths and metaphors. In the reconstruction, alternative Imaginaries could then be chosen from which, in turn, other myths and metaphors could be derived. This approach has not been tested so far and could therefore be the first possibility to make the concept of Future Imaginaries methodically applicable (cf. chapter 4.1).

Michael and Anderson, who inspired Inayatullah with their term stories, explicitly point out that they use this term where others use myth or paradigm.8 In general, it can be observed that myth is often used as a term in everyday language usage that is not reflected upon further. On closer inspection, one might use the term imaginaries.9

Next Chapter: 3.3.3 Common sense

  1. Polak, F. L. (1973). The image of the future. Amsterdam: Elsevier Scientific Publ. Comp., p. 170 

  2. In the second part of ‘The Image of the Future,’ Polak then deals in detail with the difference between and the interplay of social myths and utopias (ibid., p. 162ff). 

  3. ibid., p. 28 

  4. Beckert, J. (2016). Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press., p. 22 

  5. Inayatullah, S. (1990). Deconstructing and reconstructing the future: Predictive, cultural and critical epistemologies. Futures, 22(2), 115–141., p. 124 

  6. Inayatullah, S. (1998a). Causal Layered Analysis – Poststructuralism as method. Futures, 30(8), 15., p. 820 

  7. Engels, J. (2003). Myth. In Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik Online. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter. Accessed January 4, 2020.  2

  8. Michael, D. N., & Anderson, W. T. (1987). Norms in conflict and confusion: Six stories in search of an author. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 31(2), 107–115., p. 110 

  9. For an alternative consideration of the interplay between futures and myths, respectively the study of futures using the methods of Roland Barthes’ mythology analysis, see Fischer, N. (2017). Gegenwärtige Zukünfte, kontingente Gegenwarten und prospektives Sprechen: Anregungen für Zukunftsforschung aus einer Auseinandersetzung mit sprachreflexiven Ansätzen von Roland Barthes. Berlin: Institut Futur. 

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