Accepted paper:

Overshooting futures: investigating digital representations of scenarios with climate change


Simon David Hirsbrunner (Freie Universität Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

The paper conceptualizes 'overshooting' as a metaphor for understanding, conceptualizing and analyzing public imaginations. Focusing on digital mappings of sea-level rise and according debates, I investigate if and how public imaginations of futures with climate change may be (re)constructed.

Paper long abstract:

'Overshooting' is a term leading through various debates on the future with global environmental change. It is a constitutional element of the planetary boundaries concept (Rockström et al. 2009), describing thresholds of the earth system. It is also explicit in the ‚Earth Overshoot Day' initiative, describing (un)safe environmental operating spaces for individuals and publics. Moreover, it is a term used in computer modeling, where "overshoot scenarios" describe future trajectories of greenhouse gases that temporarily exceed a dangerous threshold.

In my paper, I will take the ‚overshoot' metaphor further. Focusing on the example of digital sea-level rise mappings, I will argue that overshooting generally structures public imaginations of the future. While the mappings may be perceived as extreme scenarios, the amplification creates an overshoot of meaning, enabling the translation of scientific scenarios into cultural tropes such as the Abrahamic deluge; amplification as a way to shape imaginaries out of the invisible meta-crisis of climate change (Welzer / Leggewie 2010).

Overshoot is also fruitful to describe methodological and ethical challenges marking the investigation of public imaginations in the post-digital age. Based on a collection of digital material around the flood mappings (Twitter data, blog posts, articles, images, videos) and recent scientific debates (Marres 2017; Ruppert et al. 2013; Lury / Wakeford 2012), I ask how and what public imaginations are (re)constructed through our (digital) research strategies. 'Overshoot' may be productive to describe what is perceived, accounted for and can therefore be researched as public / future / imagination.

panel F10
The public imagination of the future