The field of futures studies describes “the scientific concern with possible, desirable and probable future developments” (Kreibich 2006). While the majority of futures studies and foresight work focuses on creating new images of the future using scientific methods (e.g., scenarios), there have been repeated efforts since the late 1970s to examine existing images of the future as well.
Among the most influential pioneers of critical futures studies is Sohail Inayatullah. Influenced by poststructuralism, he pointed out in his seminal article on ‘Deconstructing and Reconstructing the Future’ that epistemological assumptions underlie all futures thinking: temporal, economic, political, ideological-cultural, and linguistic. However, these assumptions remain mostly unreflected even in most futures studies work. They are not questioned and thus influence the results unrecognized.
That is precisely where critical futures studies deconstruct images of the future as present futures, which provide less information about events in future presents. Instead, they are about wishes, interests, needs, and expectations prevalent in the present, expressed in stories about the future.
According to Inayatullah, the goal of critical futures studies is to create new epistemological spaces in which alternative futures can emerge by historicizing and deconstructing existing futures, or, as he puts it, “to undefine the future.”
In summary, the two goals of critical futures studies are:
- A better understanding of the present from the images of the future prevalent in society
- The “opening of the future” via broadening the space of plausible futures and the development of alternative futures
In their reconceptualization of critical futures studies, Goode and Godhe place the “futural public sphere”—the public debate about the future—at the center of consideration. In doing so, they shift the focus: away from individual images of the future in arbitrary contexts toward a more integral perception of the constituent ideas about the future in a societal context.
Based on this, they define critical futures studies as follows:
CFS investigates the scope and constraints within public culture for imagining and debating different potential futures. It interrogates imagined futures founded—often surreptitiously—upon values and assumptions from the past and present, as well as those representing a departure from current social trajectories.Goode und Godhe
Like Inayatullah, however, they do not want to leave it at the mere deconstruction of futures but call for a “reconstructive turn” to enrich public discourse with alternative futures.
I have taken the definition above from my master’s thesis on future imaginaries, which I submitted at the end of 2019. It should only be taken as a starting point, missing a host of other essential voices and approaches. This seedling has been planted in the garden.