Nele fischer on critical futures studies

Futures studies are primarily an applied science, focusing on generating knowledge that helps individuals and organizations make informed decisions in the present. It has a particular emphasis on methodologies. When asked to define futures studies, practitioners often reference scenarios, Delphi methods, and horizon scanning, among other techniques. This focus brings specific challenges, including an under-theorization within the discipline. Almost no fundamental theories about the future exist—its essence, construction, and implications. This lack of theoretical foundation renders the field somewhat unstable. Therefore, efforts to reinforce this foundation, especially within critical futures studies (CFS), are particularly exciting.

I met Nele Fischer during the master’s program in futures studies at the Free University of Berlin. There, she co-taught a course on ‘vision assessment’ with Sascha Dannenberg, one of the supervisors for my master’s thesis. Nele is also playing a pivotal role in organizing our CFS community and was instrumental in launching our inaugural event.

Nele recently completed her dissertation, ‘Möglichkeitsräume kontingenter Gegenwarten’ (EN: ‘Possibility Spaces of Contingent Presents’), which reflects on thought frames as a theoretical and methodological foundation for critical futures studies. This work promises to be a cornerstone of future studies, offering a comprehensive framework for critically engaging with the construction of futures. Good theoretical work paves the way for methodological innovation, and I eagerly anticipate such developments.

The dissertation is available only in German, but I recommend using a translation tool to explore it for those with even a remote interest in these topics. To whet your appetite, here are some highlights:

  • Social Constructivism as a Foundation: Futures are not predetermined but are shaped by societal discourse and collective interpretations, influenced by current knowledge, societal values, and narratives.
  • Critical Futures Studies (CFS): Emphasizes a reflective approach to future-making, advocating for examining normative assumptions and power structures and aiming to democratize future visions.
  • The Role of Thought Frames: Critical in shaping our perception of possible futures and identifying limitations to imaginative scope.
  • Methodological Innovations: Introduces novel strategies for exploring future scenarios, emphasizing the importance of hermeneutic understanding and creative engagement with future possibilities.
  • Reintroducing Contingency: Underlines the importance of recognizing the future’s inherent uncertainty, advocating for explorations beyond deterministic forecasts.
  • Deliberation and Transformation: Promotes a deliberative process in futures studies, aiming to co-create diverse visions and societal transformation.
  • Democratizing Futures: Calls for more inclusive future-making processes, pushing for equitable and just scenarios.

You can download the dissertation as a PDF or listen to Jonas and me interviewing Nele about her groundbreaking work for further exploration (both links in German).

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