The Project

::Creating Futures

Societies are developing and investing in technological and scientific innovations that have ever longer-term consequences for human and non-human life. Current future-producing practices include biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, and nuclear technologies. Such developments unleash futures that we cannot predict, and set in motion processes that will affect untold generations to come.

:: Knowing Futures

So there is a disjunction between what we do, and what we can know; while we design and implement new technologies, we cannot know their future consequences. Predictions and foresight methods used in formulating policy rely on scientific prediction, which builds up models of the future based on knowledge of the past. Where innovative technologies operating in contexts of complexity are concerned, this approach cannot help us.

::Minding Futures

This disjunction between knowing and doing creates a context for irresponsibility, in which all responsibility for that which cannot be seen, traced or detected in the present becomes displaced, and externalised for future generations to bear.

This project aims to address this contemporary disjunction between technological capacity and human understanding, together with the ethical problems it creates.

The research brings together isolated fields of enquiry in theory, practice, and ethics, and works towards a comprehensive, socially relevant theory of the future.

In its first, main phase, the project is primarily focused on theoretical matters, such as how the future is known, theorized, conceptualized and minded across diverse academic fields and sectors. Accordingly, the main sources are philosophy and social theory.
The first series of questions guiding our research are as follows:

  • How is the future theorised across diverse fields of knowledge?
  • What are present and past means to ‘know’ the future?
  • How is the future implicated in social science practice?
  • What ethical approaches to long-term responsibility for the outcomes of current actions are available?

In the project’s second phase, the focus shifts to more practical areas of inquiry. The second series of questions are as follows:

  • How is daily life oriented towards the future: economically, environmentally, scientifically, religiously and politically?
  • How are aspirations actualised?
  • How is the future produced in daily practice?

More specifically, the research focuses on socio-environmental matters and the increasing gulf between the capacity to create damaging long-term futures and the inability to predict long-term impacts. In this part of the research programme, we are concerned directly with practical matters of accountability and responsibility in contexts of uncertainty. Some overarching questions related to ethical responses to futures in the making are as follows:

  • How are unintended consequences handled economically, politically and scientifically?
  • How are participants in the various domains of social practice held accountable and responsible for future outcomes of their actions?
  • What conditions and circumstances exempt persons from being held accountable and responsible for future outcomes of their actions?

All findings and outputs from the project as well as short briefings will be posted on Research and Briefings.

Collaborations with other academic institutions from the UK and abroad are in the process of being established. You can learn about collaborators in Partners and Links.

At present, you can learn about our Review Board, comprised of practitioners from multiple sectors and orientations on the Research Team page.


All content Copyright ESRC PROFESSORIAL FELLOWSHIP 2003-6 (RES051270049)- Photograps courtesy of Peter Goin and - design: Katrin Sigurdardottir