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Accepted Paper:

Through a portal lightly: experiments in utopian futuring for dystopian times  
Vivienne Kuh (University of Bristol)

Short abstract:

This paper details experiments in utopian futuring with aerosol scientists in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. The methodology, Narrative Futuring, uses the best possible worlds as jumping-off points for critical reflection on contemporary scientific practice and its possible futures.

Long abstract:

The UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council AREA framework for RRI embeds anticipation as one of three core “processes” (alongside reflection and engagement) for researchers to engender responsible research practice. Their 2019 mandate requiring RRI training for PhD students has provided fertile ground for a new body of sociotechnological imaginaries and images of the future to emerge, offering rich material for STS scholars.

Beginning this work in the context of a global pandemic, teaching RRI across 8 diverse disciplines, has exposed critical limitations in existing futures methodologies. In response, I collaborated with an artist to develop the Narrative Futuring methodology, supporting participants to imagine and critically engage with utopian futures as a means of reflecting on contemporary practice. Inspired by Ruth Levitas’ Utopia as Method, and Tschalling Swiestra’s call for RRI to move beyond preventing harms towards eudaimonia, Narrative Futuring employs utopia, after Levitas, first as architecture, then as archaeology, exploring the ways in which we imagine the best possible worlds and what this tells us about where we are headed.

This paper reflects on experiments in Narrative Futuring with researchers in aerosol science, their successes and failures, and the challenges inherent in capturing the impact and meaning of the participants’ experiences. I explore how images of utopian futures shape the work of science in the present; the trans-disciplinary inspirations for our methodology; and how an approach forged in the emotional darkness of the Covid-19 pandemic offers new and urgent paths away from other dark pasts, presents and futures.

Traditional Open Panel P056
Futures work
  Session 1 Wednesday 17 July, 2024, -