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Futurology: Futures Studies

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Introduction

Futures studies is "the forward-looking equivalent of history. If history is concerned with origins, roots, where, in some sense, we have collectively been; futures studies is about goals, purposes, where we are going, how we get there and the problems and opportunities we will encounter en route."

A more detailed definition: "futures studies... is a field of intellectual and political activity concerning all sectors of the psychological, social, economic, political and cultural life, aiming at discovering and mastering the extensions of the complex chains of causalties, by means of conceptualisations, systematic reflections, experimentations, anticipations and creative thinking. Futures studies therefore constitute a natural basis for subnational, national and international, and both interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary activities tending to become a new forum for the basis of political decision making". [1]

More In-depth

Futures studies reflects on how today’s changes (or the lack thereof) become tomorrow’s reality. It includes attempts to analyze the sources, patterns, and causes of change and stability in order to develop foresight and to map alternative futures. The subjects and methods of futures studies include possible, probable and desirable variation or alternative transformations of the present, both social and “natural” (i.e. independent of human impact). A broad field of enquiry, futures studies explores and represents what the present could become from multiple interdisciplinary perspectives.

Futures studies takes as one of its important attributes (epistemological starting points) the on-going effort to analyze images of the future and distinguish possible, probable and preferred (normative) futures. This effort includes collecting quantitative and qualitative data about the possibility, probability and desirability of change toward the emergence of alternative futures. Like historical studies that try to explain what happened in the past and why, the efforts of futures studies try to understand the latent potential of the present. This requires the development of theories of present conditions and how conditions might change. For this task, futures studies, as it is generally undertaken, uses a wide range of theoretical models and practical methods, many of which come from other academic disciplines (including economics, sociology, geography, history, engineering, mathematics, psychology], technology, tourism, physics, biology, astronomy, and theology).

Two factors usually distinguish futures studies from the research conducted by these other disciplines (although all disciplines overlap, to differing degrees):

  1. futures studies often examines not only probable but also possible and preferable futures
  2. futures studies typically attempts to gain a holistic or systemic view based on insights from a range of different disciplines.

The following discussion, in presenting the history of futures studies and the work of its many branches, conveys futures studies as emergent, cross-cutting and diverse.

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