Accepted Paper:

Climate Stalemate as Crisis of the Imagination An Analysis of Cultural-Political Techniques of Futuring  


Peter Pelzer (Utrecht University)
Maarten Hajer (Urban Futures Studio)

Paper short abstract:

‘Deep decarbonization’ of the economy is a widely supported societal future, but this transition is slow in coming. This paper analyzes this as a crisis of imagination. It applies the concepts ‘imaginaries’ and ‘techniques of futuring’, to analyse the International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam.

Paper long abstract:

Climate change is one of the great challenges of our time. It suggests the need for what is called a 'deep decarbonisation' of the economy. While the consequences of inaction are well described and widely known, political action is still slow in coming. This paper examines this political deadlock as a crisis of imagination and considers what sort of cultural-political practice might help break through this situation. A crucial concept in this approach is 'techniques of futuring', which we conceptualise as a practice related to engaging with the future. After analyzing the mainstream employment of techniques in the domain of climate policy in terms of their appeal to the imagination, the paper explores alternative techniques of futuring in which 'imaginaries' play a critical role. The paper hypothesizes that innovative cultural-political practices are a relevant realm to analyze these imaginaries. This is then taken up empirically through an analysis of the 2016 International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam (IABR). The IABR can be considered a cultural-political 'safe space' for new ideas ( The paper uses ethnographic fieldwork to present an in-depth analysis of the extent to which two particular installations are successful as (micro) techniques of futuring. Both are related to the transition to renewable energy. The first installation is a high-tech stakeholder-based installation that visualizes an imagined future of a decarbonized future for countries around the North Sea. The second installation is a mobile exhibit portraying a postcarbon economic future for the region of Groningen in the Dutch Northeast.

Panel T028
Futures in the making and re-making