Built to fail: the role(s) of utopia in science fiction, planning and futurism


Happy new year, one and all! We’re making plans to get FOReTHOUGHT spun back up to full gravity as soon as our schedules will allow, and we’ve got some interesting pieces in the pipe for the weeks ahead.

But given we’re all just settling into the first working week of the year, and given I’ve not got one of those pipeline pieces ready to go… well, I figure you’ll just have to put up with me promoting my own work again! Over the holidays, I had an essay published in the Journal of Futures Studies, titled “Imagining the Impossible: The Shifting Role of Utopian Thought in Civic Planning, Science Fiction, and Futures Studies”. Here’s the abstract:

Histories of futurism and/or futures studies tend to see the discipline as having its roots in the “operations research” paradigm of the mid-20th Century, which in turn emerged from what eventually became the RAND Corporation (for an exemplar see e.g. Bell, 1996). To construct futurism in such a manner is to ignore many other disciplines whose focus has also been on the development, description and analysis of imagined futures. The RAND-rooted history restricts “proper” futurism to a predominantly scientific (and frequently scientistic), positivist, quantitative and rationalist paradigm, and excludes the more qualitative work of political science, sociology, social theory, architecture and urban planning, as well as the more nakedly speculative and/or imaginative futurist practices of artists and authors. To discard this history is, I believe, to discard some important lessons about what futurism can realistically hope to achieve as regards depicting normative or “preferred” futures.

It’s based in no small part on a talk I gave at FutureEverything2014 in Manchester (which can be seen on video here; wind forward to ~33:00), and anyone who caught my presentation at last year’s 24 Hour Inspire event here at UoS will likewise find much of it familiar… but this is the first time it’s all appeared in prose. So if you fancy watching me draw developmental parallels between science fiction literature, the town planning tradition and futurism, well, you’re in luck! It’s open access and free-to-air, so tell your friends… and feel free to drop me a line and let me know what you think. (Unless you think it’s awful, of course, in which case I’d honestly prefer you told someone other than me…)

Want to see your own work published or otherwise plugged here at FOReTHOUGHT? Of course you do — so drop us a line and let us know what you’ve got going on.