Emerging pathways for critical futures research: Changing contexts and impacts of social theory

Toni Ahlqvist, Martin Rhisiart

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    There has always been a critical, emancipatory tradition within futures studies. Although those voices can still be heard,there has been a growing tendency for futures studies to be driven by more utilitarian needs in business and government. Whilst it is positive that futures thinking and research is increasingly valued within corporate and policy-making settings, much of that
    work appears to lack genuine plurality of worldviews and interests.

    The paper traces the changing contexts for futures research over the past 25 years. It argues that futures research needs to be viewed as part of the re-politicisation – in the Habermasian sense – of technocratic decision-making. It
    suggests that there are three particular reasons for revisiting the need for criticality in futures research: the increasing acknowledgement of systemic interrelatedness (ecological, social, economic), a growth in the forward-looking socio-economic paradigm that permeates both business and policy, and the challenge of theory development. Drawing on social theory and futures research, we suggest three pathways for revived critical futures research: socio-technical
    practices, future-oriented dialectics, and socio-economic imaginaries.
    As a result, the paper calls for development in futures studies that would dialectically integrate and overcome the dichotomy between instrumentalisation
    and (critical) theorising that can be currently understood as somewhat antagonistic. In order to find a balance between these antagonistic dimensions, futures research should be more engaged in enabling critique and revealing assumptions and interests.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)91-104
    Number of pages14
    Publication statusPublished - 26 Jul 2015


    • Critical theory
    • Social theory
    • Critical futures research


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