2 Comments

  1. Ruben Nelson

    Stephen,
    Thank you.
    If I understand your thrust, I wish to make six comments. All are intended to reinforce your thrust and to extend it beyond the point of your post above. I make no assumptions about your agreement or disagreement with my comments.

    1. Yes, we need both to “look into” and “look at” the way we and others “look into” the future.

    2. The “we an others” of point 1 means we need to move beyond well beyond the “critical” stance that still dominates our modern/Industrial form of civilization and become routinely reflexive. We need to “watch ourselves” as we conduct ourselves at every moment, including time invested in watching others. (These two words — watch yourself — are not so much a cautionary warning as an instruction of the full range of conduct that is now required.) In this sense, we move from “looking into” the future, to “looking at” various actors in our culture looking at and into the future, to “(reflexively) watching ourselves and others” “looking at” ourselves and others in our culture looking at and into the future.

    3. Becoming routinely reflexive is the key to learning to see and experience one’s self and all others as co-creators of the future, and this willy-nilly. So three moves are required beyond “looking into” the future: the one you note and the one I added in point 2 and the final move of learning to live with gift and the burden of the reality of human persons as active participants in the co-creation of the future whether we recognize this or note, or like this status or not.

    4. The last move implies that we come to terms with the fact that neither we nor others have the status as mere observers of history. Like it our not, we are in its co-creation up to our necks. The “objective observer” myth of the first enlightenment must be abandoned as false and misleading.

    5. If this be at all the case, then much (most?) that we in modern/Industrial cultures take for granted must be re-conceived, re-thought through and re-formed in the flesh of our lives and that of our societies.

    6. For us in the futures and foresight field we must re-establish our work on the basis of an far more integrated view of what we are as persons and this may (will?) require that we can no longer be in the service of maintaining the dominance and domination of modern/Industrial ways of being and becoming.

    Or so it seems to me.

    Ruben

  2. Stephen McGrail

    Hi Ruben,

    You’ve mostly understood what I was trying to describe – and also extended these ideas in really thought provoking ways. Thanks so much. If you’re not aware of it you should look up Ulrich Beck’s theory of reflexive modernization – Beck’s thesis (and the views of others in this space) and research program is similar to what you’ve argued.

    We certainly do need to both “look into” and “look at” the way we and others “look into” the future – as you note. However, I’m also saying that we need to look at (in a sociological sense) the way that ‘the future’ shapes the present, and how it is related to and used by actors (e.g. in a strategic manner). For example, visions can be used strategically as “bids” in coalition-building processes. Via complex social processes expectations about the future can influence the futures they purport to describe (e.g. self-fulfilling prophecies). More generally, the division between facts and values is extraordinarily blurry and problematic whenever anticipatory statements are made .

    As a practitioner I’ve found that foresight processes – or whatever we choose to call these exercises – are vulnerable to power struggles, opportunistic behaviour (i.e. by the participants in the process), and so on. I’ve also found that many futures/foresight practitioners will try to shape the future in a non-transparent manner, whilst purporting to be neutral consultants. This is perhaps a twist on – or example of – the “objective observer myth” you pointed to. So ‘looking at’ the future also means looking at and reflecting on these activities and issues.

    Practitioner reflexivity demands much greater awareness of all this!

    Stephen

    P.S. I love this sentence: ‘In this sense, we move from “looking into” the future, to “looking at” various actors in our culture looking at and into the future, to “(reflexively) watching ourselves and others” “looking at” ourselves and others in our culture looking at and into the future.’ This neatly describes the journey I have gone on over the past decade.

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