Emerging fields to review in 2013

One final observation for 2012: lots of future-oriented and futures-related research fields have progressed significantly over the past few years. These ought to be examined by futures practitioners (and will be part of my PhD research). Here’s a couple to watch:

1) Sociology of Expectations

The Sociology of Expectations (SoE) has primarily developed in the field of Science and Technology Studies (STS). These STS scholars are interested in the phenomenon of future-orientation, the performativity of future expectations/visions (that is, their impacts in the present), along with strategies used by actors to secure/embed a particular reading of the future. (A good book is Contested Futures: A Sociology of Prospective Technoscience in which a diverse group of scholars consider ‘how the future as a temporal abstraction is constructed and managed, by whom and under what conditions’). Philosophers of science, in related fields, are also looking at anticipatory knowledge.

In a paper I published in 2010 on nanotechnology I noted that some STS scholars distinguish between ‘looking into’ and ‘looking at’ the future. The latter examines how and why the future is mobilised.

However, the focus here is often  science and technology. (E.g., see this paper). The related claim that future expectations and visions are now more important to technoscientific research and change is empirically-supported by SoE research – which I also contributed to with my Master’s thesis on nanotechnology. In this analysis SoE scholars have also noted and researched the rise of ‘foresight’ exercises, particularly in European science/technology policy, and growth of ‘promissory organisations’ that produce and sell future-oriented knowledge (such as Gartner Research). That is, foresight work and methods are increasingly being critically examined by scholars.

Some links/papers to review in 2013:

‘Navigating foresight in a sea of expectations’

‘Avian flu: the creation of expectations in the interplay between science and the media’

Special issue of the journal Science & Public Policy on ‘the anticipatory state’, which features papers that examine how ‘anticipatory knowledge’ is both produced and used

‘Mapping expectations for system transformations’

‘Arenas of expectations for hydrogen technologies’

‘Researching technoscientific futures’

This is an area to watch closely and learn from. E.g. the central question in the paper on ‘promissory organisations’ is “Why are certain kinds of promissory behaviour more influential than others?”

2) Transition science/studies and ‘sustainability transitions’

Recently this field has grown and made a large policy impact in some countries. This includes those focussed on ‘transition science’, ‘transition management’, and ‘sustainability transitions‘, and often focus on new process-based techniques. For example, transition Management is described by Loorbach (2007) as a deliberative process used to influence governing activities in such a way that they enable societal processes of change towards sustainability – whereby a new vanguard (that is termed “frontrunners”) then can compete with dominant actors and practices.

Some links/papers to review in 2013:

‘Sustainability transitions: An emerging field of research and its prospects’

Holding the future together: towards a theorisation of the spaces and times of transition. This paper looks at ‘transitions’ in UK government policy and the Transition Towns movement; importantly the paper points to efforts govern the future, and “more implicitly to govern via the future”. The authors further comment that “discursively, Transition Towns — and their futures — are all governed by the same premise: the certainties of global energy scarcity and climate change.”

‘Urban Transition Labs: co-creating transformative action for sustainable cities’

 ‘Transition pathways to a low-carbon economy’ (UK)

‘CAUTION! Transitions ahead: politics, practice, and sustainable transition management’

Adam Kahane is an interesting transition researcher/practitioner, who incorporates scenario planning into his work. Kahane has examined how and why tough problems get ‘stuck’ and ways we might get ‘unstuck’ and move forward. He recently launched his new book at the Centre for Social Impact (see talk) where he discussed the role of transformative scenario planning and the complexities faced when using this approach. Three aspects are emphasised: problems (as well as solutions) are often unclear, requiring a process of discovery; working across systems (e.g., with opponents as well as allies, etc.) which guarantees conflict during analytical and change processes; transforming (not just adapting to) the situation – necessitating greater courage/commitment to effect change.

Also see Reos Partners: http://reospartners.com/

An opportunity such fields suggest is that futures research/Foresight could benefit from creating stronger linkages with other and emerging strands of research.

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