Futures Studies:unknown and misunderstood
FS almost a century old, yet largely unknown
- Interdisciplinary = no discipline
- Field can’t agree on its own name
Where known, often misunderstood:
- Forecasting = prediction
- Probability = certainty
- Plausibility = usefulness
Disseminating quality futures research and the potential for insight and creativity it engenders is rendered difficult by the almost complete anonymity of futures studies as an academic discipline and field of research. This despite its roots in the nineteenth century, and its emergence in the beginnings of the twentieth century, practically side-by-side with systems science. Many factors contribute to its obscurity. One certainly is the difficulty any interdisciplinary science has in gaining legitimacy in academia, where “interdisciplinary” is often perceived as synonymous with “no discipline at all.” The futures community itself generates another difficulty: an inability to agree on the field’s name: futurology, futuribles, foresight, prospectiva, previzione, forecasting, futures research, zukunftsforschung, futures studies. And, of course, tulevaisuuden.
Where known, futures studies is often misunderstood, with academic colleagues, clients, workshop participants, and audiences desiring -- and perceiving -- forecasting to be prediction, probability to be certainty, and plausibility to be an indicator of usefulness. This no matter how often FS pundits say, ‘We can’t predict the future.’ ‘We need to create the future.’ ‘It’s about managing uncertainty.’ ‘It’s about anticipating surprises, be they opportunities or threats.’
Of course, in searching for acceptance, especially from our academic colleagues, the difficulty lies in maintaining the courage of our convictions. We are, after all, the product of our socializations and training -- and the training of academia emphasizes prediction, certainty, and plausible as usefulness. Futures Studies is unique in existing in the “verberant core” of tension between opposing concepts, as I will address later. How, then, do we design strategies to introduce people to its theories, tools, and telling insights?