An introductory Q&A with the Futures in Question network.


Q: How did the Futures in Question network come about?

Our network began as a reading group dedicated to exploring historical, anthropological, and sociological accounts of modern anticipatory practices. An extensive body of scholarship examines how, especially towards the end of the twentieth century, prediction, preparation, prevention, and pre-emption became entwined with now-routine practices of surveillance, categorisation, and boundary-making. However, as we soon realised, much of this critical work seems disconcertingly disconnected from the actual practice and lived realities of forecasters and decision-makers. We aim to provide a forum in which critics and practitioners can come together to discuss the futures thinking and anticipatory practices at work in various fields.

Q: By definition, a CRASSH research network has an interdisciplinary question at its core. What is yours?

How, why, and for whom do we anticipate and imagine the future? In answering this question, we will explore how different kinds of futures thinking—from artistic speculation to scientific forecasting—interact with one another and encourage different forms of surveillance, political action, and socioeconomic organisation. We will further consider how these in turn reshape the future.

These issues have long fascinated sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, economists, cultural studies scholars, historians, and literary scholars. They are of central importance to policymakers, climate scientists, early childhood educators, epidemiologists, novelists, urban planners, and artificial intelligence engineers. These non-exhaustive lists hint at the enormous diversity of contexts in which futures thinking becomes particularly explicit and influential. Each of our fortnightly sessions will bring together panellists (and attendees!) with diverse disciplinary and professional backgrounds to explore how anticipatory practices and futures thinking operate in a particular field.

Q: Could you tell us a bit more about this year’s convenors, speakers and attendees and the perspectives they bring to the discussion?

Futures in Question is convened by Alexis Bedolla (Sociology, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), Erinn Campbell (History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge), Elspeth Davies (Social Anthropology, Cambridge), Theo Di Castri (History and Philosophy of Science, Cambridge), and Kerry Mackereth (Gender Studies, Cambridge). All of our work contends with some aspect of futures thinking and anticipatory practices, whether in public health, pest control, cancer research, prevention science, or artificial intelligence.

Most of our sessions will centre around a panel discussion featuring a mix of critical scholars, applied scholars, and practitioners. Our ‘Climate Futures’ panel, for example, will include a philosopher, a sociologist, and a climate change communications expert, while our ‘Cancerous Futures’ panel will bring together an anthropologist, a professor of cancer prevention, and a philosopher.

Most of our panel discussions will be in-person/hybrid, and some will be fully virtual. (We aim to include a diverse group of international participants while also providing opportunities for in-person engagement.) We welcome everyone with any interest in futures thinking and anticipatory practices to join us.

Q: What can we expect from Futures in Question in 2022/23?

We will host a series of panel discussions centred on the following themes: Calamitous futures, Cancerous futures, Contagious futures, Data futures, Climate futures, AI futures, Queer futures, Extremist futures, Abolitionist futures, and Afro futures. Our first session will discuss pre-circulated readings which will provide some context and conceptual frameworks for thinking through the panel discussions. Our final session will provide a space for integrating past insights through general discussion and broad reflection.

Q: How can people learn more about your Network?

Please visit the research network’s web page on the CRASSH website, and please do join our discussions online or in person. You can also follow us on Twitter.

  • Written by Alexis Bedolla, Erinn Campbell, Elspeth Davies, Theo Di Castri and Kerry Mackereth

 

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