Tools for the examination of future imaginaries

This article is part of my Master’s Thesis - Future Imaginaries. Previous Chapter: 4 Outlook – Application of future imaginaries

Some of the authors analyzed in chapter 2 have given hints or concrete suggestions for identifying and investigating futures and imaginaries, which will be brought together here as possible starting points for considering future imaginaries.

One test of whether a collective future expectation might indicate a Future Imaginary was described in chapter 2.3.5 with the resistance that a future expectation generates when an alternative is imagined. However, this thought experiment can only give a first hint.

The greatest challenge in identifying Future Imaginaries is that they cannot be considered directly as part of the background understanding but manifest themselves through expressive formats and actions. Thus, they can only be identified indirectly through those. Therefore, the material that futures studies can work with to identify and examine Future Imaginaries are all the expressions and formulations of future expectations and actions that suggest future expectations.

“In short, [Critical Future Studies] treats texts, discourses, images and ideas of the future as its primary data.”1

This work has already mentioned numerous examples of concrete objects of observation. From interviews to publications with megatrends to legislation. Goode and Godhe add further examples:

“science fiction, technology journalism, advertising, music videos – all can be rich repositories of futural imagination.”1

This material can be studied in a variety of ways. Goode and Godhe point to the “rich vein of methodological traditions already available to us, for example: Hermeneutics and literary methods, critical discourse analysis, visual semiotics.”2 Jasanoff adds to this the methods of “interpretive research and analysis that probe the nature of structure-agency relationships through inquiries into meaning making,”3 emphasizing comparison in particular as a helpful tool.

Grunwald’s listing of the components of Future Imaginaries is another starting point (cf. chapter 2.1.1). Here, especially the premises can give clues to possible Future Imaginaries.

Inayatullah’s poststructural toolbox provides, as indicated in chapter 2.1.3, five different perspectives to deconstruct Future Imaginaries based on specific questions.

Goode and Godhe, in turn, have formulated questions to examine the environment in which future images are created, and thus an important playing field for Future Imaginaries:4

  • 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?

As described in chapter 2.2.3, Strauss used the three types of knowledge from cognitive psychology to formulate further specific questions that can be asked of identified (Future) Imaginaries:

“What are the prototypes and exemplars associated with specific imaginaries (e.g. of a ‘society’ or ‘nation’)? How do the stereotypical expectations embedded in a given prototype fit with the fuller knowledge available in the exemplars and cultural models? Is the prototype for a concept seen as an ideal?”5

The model of the ITAS workshop participants helps examine the interactions between society and Future Imaginaries (cf. chapter 2.1.1).

Lockton and Candy have been the most application-oriented in dealing with Imaginaries from a futures studies perspective. Besides the ‘Ethnographic Experiential Futures Process’ mentioned in chapter 2.3.4, in which existing Future Imaginaries are identified and externalized in the first step, they mention several other methods to describe Future Imaginaries.6 These include Robert B. Textor’s ‘Ethnographic Futures Research,’7 the ‘Generic Images of the Future’ described by Dator8 and Candy et al.,9 and the Institute For The Future’s ‘Systems Mythology Toolkit.’10

As described in chapter 3.2.3, Inayatullah’s CLA is also a promising tool for identifying Future Imaginaries and their influence on myths and metaphors. Whether a fifth level can extend it to deal with Future Imaginaries – e.g., in workshops or the deconstruction of futures – needs to be examined.

Next Chapter: Artificial Intelligence and future imaginaries

  1. Goode, L., & Godhe, M. (2017). Beyond Capitalist Realism - Why We Need Critical Future Studies. Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research, 9(1), 109–129., p. 120  2

  2. ibid., p. 121 

  3. Jasanoff, S. (2015). Future Imperfect: Science, Technology, and the Imaginations of Modernity. In Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power. University of Chicago Press., p. 24 

  4. Goode und Godhe 2017, S. 122-123 

  5. Strauss, C. (2006). The Imaginary. Anthropological Theory, 6(3), 322–344., p. 332 

  6. cf. 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. 32 

  7. Textor, R. B. (1995). The Ethnographic Futures Research Method: An Application to Thailand. Futures, 27(4), 461–471. 

  8. Dator, J. (2009). Alternative Futures at the Manoa School. Journal of Futures Studies, 14(2), 1–18. 

  9. Candy, P. S., Dator, J., & Dunagan, J. (2006). Four Futures for Hawaii 2050. Honolulu: Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies. 

  10. Hendricks, D. (2014). Systems Mythology Toolkit (SR-1675C). Palo Alto, CA: Institute for the Future. 

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