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.
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
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
- 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