1. Stephen,

    An APF member posted a link to your post on the list, and someone else responded – from an academic setting – that they agreed with Sohail that it was adequately theorised. Me, as a practitioner who tries to follow theory, I’m less sure: I posted this to the list and am sharing it here.

    “We had a short discussion at the Oxford Futures Forum a few years ago as to whether futures was adequately theorised, and I think the view there (from people such as the late Max Boisot, for example) was that it wasn’t.

    I was struck both then and when editing The Futures of Futures book about the way in which the early philosophical engagement with futures had tailed off, and had really only re-emerged through the Anticipation work of Roberto Poli, Riel Miller, et al, but I’m pretty sure they would say they’re only scratching the surface.

    I think the way we talk about time seems underinformed by theory, and again it strikes me as interesting that the academics who appear to have done most of this work – Barbara Adam and Chris Groves at Cardiff University – seem to be almost entirely disconnected from the futures community.

    And let me continue: we have bunches of assertions (“there are no future facts”) which probably aren’t true, and which were created as stakes in the ground so we could at least delineate an area of practice. There’s a whole area of futures work connecting to systems that is under-developed (thank goodness Tony Hodgson has decided to do a PhD on this after 45 years of systems practice). We seem to me to have no adequate theoretical respons (even if we disagree with him) to the Dave Snowden critique that in complex systems the only valid behaviours are emergent ones.

    And we don’t seem that strong to me – though I know that I don’t follow the academe as closely as others on this list – in being able to defend either the epistemology or ontology of futures knowledge. How do we know what we know?

    I agree that there’s a futures knowledge base there. Quite a lot of it looks to me as if it is effectively better or worse accounts of practice. Theory? Not so much.”

  2. Stephen McGrail

    Hi Andrew,
    I really appreciate you sharing those thoughts and reflections – did your comments spark any further discussion amongst Association of Professional Futurists (APF) members?

    I’ll share a couple of reasons why I’ve never joined the APF as one is relevant to this discussion: 1) I’ve never really considered myself to be a futurist; and 2) The APF has always seemed to me to be rushing into trying to establish a profession when there isn’t (in my view, at least) an adequate basis for establishing one. It’s like people – to attempt a rough analogy – trying to establish the modern medicine field (and the associated credentialing of doctors and other medical practitioners) before there are robust theories of disease, human health (more broadly), and associated interventions for addressing specific conditions and diseases. And we know the history of pre-modern medicine in which more harm than good was often done… ditto for futures practice today which may do more harm than good in some or a lot of cases, although the stakes are typically (but not always) less than the life and death of medicine.

    I would further suggest that practitioners and others in academic contexts (such as the academic who defended the current state of theory in the APF discussion) have a clear interest in asserting the validity of futures/foresight theory – otherwise what basis do they have for being an academic? To survive they must defend the rigour and validity of their discipline, otherwise they risk being thrown out of the academy…


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