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A Political History of the Future : Knowledge Production and Future Governance 1945-2010

Final Report Summary - FUTUREPOL (A Political History of the Future : Knowledge Production and Future Governance 1945-2010)

A characteristic of modern societies is their belief in the knowability and governability of the future in their faith that the future can be known and controlled. Futurepol is a collective research project devoted to the activity labeled futurology, future research, or futures studies in the Cold War era. A team of five researchers, Futurepol was based on a transnational approach to futurists as predictive experts and to how they interacted with political regimes East, West, and eventually on the global level.

Futurepol asked the question, How does the future become a scientific and political object? Through which kinds of knowledge practices and which forms of expertise does the future become knowable and influentiable? The activity of prediction is a highly specific form of knowledge production in which ‘facts’, often referred to as predictive, artificial, or synthetic facts, are produced through the explicit reliance on experts. Through the fundamental uncertainties associated with the long term, such experts seem to gain a particular salience, and their often highly specific knowledge becomes privileged at the expense of other, often more critical, forms and ways of relating to the long term. Prediction is therefore a quintessentially powered activity, and its social role needs to be understood. Pooling research from researchers with different competence and knowledge, and working through an impressive range of archival collections all over the world, Futurepol has constituted a unique knowledge on the history of prediction and futurism.

The project has been conducted around four different axes:

1: the circulation of predictive knowledge in a global field, and the role of futurology, future research and futures studies as a reflection on the Cold War and post Cold war era

2: Prediction and globality: the construction of “world” or “common problems” in the 1960s and 1970s and world modeling as a tool of world consciousness

3: futurology, systems analysis, and reform communism,

4: Future research, states and planning,

Outcomes and conclusions

Since the beginning of the project in January 2012, Futurepol built a bulk of historical knowledge of the emergence of prediction in the fields of political science, international relations and economics, in the Cold War period. The project offers several key conclusions for contemporary intellectual and political history: 1. Future research was a carrier of emergent reflections on globality, and such visions of planetary or global interdependence were in fact constituted by the activity of prediction, as illustrated by the example of world modeling or scenarios of world order. We demonstrate the shift, here, in the use of predictive tools, from representations of bipolarity, to representations of world commonalities and shared futures, and we pinpoint the link between the ideas of humanity, world, and future in the post 1945 era. In addition, the intellectual history of futurism allows to show that prediction was a highly hetereogenous activity, which draws both on forms of scientificity, and on the active mobilization of the human imagination. Within the field of prediction we see, over time, the constitution of a specific form of futuristic expertise. Such predictive experts rely to an important extent on forms of knowledge production that we can link to paid advice and think-tank activity. This historical knowledge provides the foundation for our further research on fundamental changes in the political usage of prediction, and has also made an impact of prevailing understandings of the rationalities of scientific production in the Cold War era as well as the nature of the post war state.