Emancipatory Tradition in Futures Studies
- Article: From Critique to Cultural Recovery: Critical futures studies and Causal Layered Analysis. By Jose Ramos.
"The ‘emancipatory tradition’ in futures studies, if broadly defined, spans the work of many scholars, writers and peace minded individuals the world over. To name a few would do insult to the many that have made contributions. Critical futures studies, as an intellectual practice that aims to critique reified and oppressive social structures and destructive cultural traits, also fits within this emancipatory tradition. Again, the list of those who call themselves critical futurists is long, and naming a few would mean ignoring the rest. At any rate, critical futures and the emancipatory tradition has never been about names, but rather about the nameless, those many whose voices and visions have been ignored at the point of a gun, drowned out by the sound of falling bombs and otherwise dehumanised by ‘modernising’ forces and structural violence. Critical futures is not about the careers of a few scholars, rather it is about projects that transcend the narrow boundaries of the self. These projects range from creating a sustainable society and sustainable world for future generations, to creating futures of gender equality, to addressing the ‘civilisational challenge’, envisioning a peaceful ‘Gaia of civilisations’, and otherwise opening up spaces for popular participation in creating alternative futures.
The following monograph examines two such projects, those of Richard Slaughter and Sohail Inayatullah, and their respective contributions to critical futures studies. And while they represent the work of only two in the rich emancipatory tradition in futures, their contributions are particularly important. The reader may detect a tone of admiration throughout this monograph, which some academics might find embarrassing. Instead of apologising, however, there is a justification. The ‘devotion’ expressed here is not to these men specifically, but to what they represent, a rich world beyond the narrow confines of instrumental rationality and the biased assumptions of the West. While there is unapologetic admiration of both men, they have also made foundational contributions to understanding the social construction of the future; and they have laid new ground for a generation of futures thinkers. It would be dishonest to say that this is an objective account of their work, but ‘objective’ no longer holds up under scrutiny anymore, given our understanding of how the ‘object’ of our examination changes according to our vantage point in the socio-political spectrum. A claim to objectivity would be presumptuous. The author shares their emancipatory ethos.
This monograph is by necessity biographical. We live within contextual fields of consciousness and action, and are expressions of our time and place. To deny these structures is to somehow make ourselves omniscient observers above the influence of the world. People and their ideas are naturally expressions of their context: the culture and era they live in. To make the claim that a writer’s ideas are somehow separate from their historical and cultural environment is to intimate the universality and everlasting truth of their claims. Far from this, the position taken here is much humbler. The work of these men will some day be looked at as products of their time, critiqued, and with different and unforeseen futures thinking emerging – ‘transcending and including’. This is an attempt to ‘situate’ the ideas of these two men in the context of their life journey, to weave a narrative of individual exploration and social innovation. Far from muddying the waters with anecdotal facts, a ‘contextual analysis’ highlights the relevance of their ideas to their historical situation and their experiences as actors in the making of history.
The true objective of this monograph is two-fold. Firstly, to highlight and explore the ideas and methods these individuals innovated; thus, the background and core ideas of many of the thinkers that influenced Slaughter and Inayatullah are unearthed and characterised. And, secondly, to situate the ideas and methodology in their cultural and historical contexts, or in the words of Inayatullah, to ‘locate methodology in epistemology – focused on the person, the situation and the episteme’.1 By extension, there is complicity on the part of the writer, with one’s personal values and interests expressed through this text. This monograph is thus not the true story of critical futures, but rather a labour of interpretation with emancipatory intent." ()