EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Anticipatory knowledge: prognostics and prophecy in management and governance
Location U7-12
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Christina Garsten (Stockholm University) email
  • Jakob Krause-Jensen (Aarhus University) email

Mail All Convenors

Chair Mark Maguire

Short Abstract

The panel invites contributions that investigate the practices of anticipation and foresight in organizations, the underlying cultural rationalities, forms of knowledge, styles of writing and professional practices that make up the basis of geo-cultural scenarios and models for future governance.

Long Abstract

Anticipating the future speaks to the core of organizations' aspirations to manage, shape and control the social, economic and political activities they are engaged in. For such prognostic and prophetic purposes organizations often employ a wide range of sophisticated tools, relying on both a particular rhetoric and qualitative and quantitative methods and models (metrics, indexes, forecasting and scenarios) in their efforts to imagine possibilities, estimate probabilities, sketch trajectories, and frame choices. Anticipatory knowledge has come to appear as an important prerequisite for organizations striving to position themselves in a narrative and normative fashion, and in relation to past, present and future actions.

The sub-theme invites contributions that investigate the practices of different forms of anticipatory knowledge in organizations. We wish to inspire a discussion of the underlying cultural rationalities, styles of reasoning and forms of knowledge that make up the basis of scenarios and models for future management and governance, and to work towards a deepened understanding of the crucial tenets of knowledge that undergird the future modelling of business gurus, foresight professionals and others who deal in foretelling and forecasting. We work from the assumption that scenarios for the future are far from innocent exercises of imagination. On the contrary, they have the capacity to shape people's perceptions of what constitute 'global problems', 'global solutions' and 'imaginable futures'; they can form organizational agendas and member experiences in ways that have concrete implications for decision-making and for the allocation of resources.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Anticipating the future at the National Assembly of Quebec

Author: Samuel Shapiro (Université Laval)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on how legislative bodies look consistently towards the future from the present through collective debates featuring contrasting visions of the past, present and future. Examples are taken from the author’s fieldwork at the National Assembly of Quebec.

Long Abstract

Whilst in opposition, political parties often critique the actions of the current government and their effects on society's present and future. They frequently present opposition bills or motions that shed light on issues they perceive the government as neglecting and promise to overturn previous legislative and executive measures once they gain power. In practice, however, new governments mostly choose less direct methods of challenging their predecessors' political legacy that focus on positively altering the future instead of undoing the past. More generally, the work of parliaments is to discuss, debate and decide on measures written in the present that present a necessarily subjective vision of and for the future. Parliamentary debates bring into dialogue and debate not only visions in and of the present, but also interpretations of history and of the future by which politicians try to anticipate the future and be "on the right side of history" in advance. This paper will focus on such issues by drawing on anthropological fieldwork at the National Assembly of Quebec, the legislative institution of that Canadian province. Whilst it shares the above characteristics with many other parliaments, this Assembly presents the peculiarity that the contours of the political entity it represents remain ambiguous despite being a territorially-defined federated entity that has existed for more than two centuries. This paper will explore both the more general points that such a case study brings out as well as how its idiosyncrasies can contribute to broader theorising.

The university of planning

Author: David Westbrook (SUNY Buffalo Law School)  email

Short Abstract

Contemporary universities use the planning process to create commitment, thereby constructing the university bureaucratically.

Long Abstract

An important site for the anticipation and, crucially, production of anticipatory (or desired) knowledge (or commitment) is the contemporary university, at least as instantiated in the United States. Following Lyotard and others since, my recent work remarks the shift from the university of culture, centered on Bildung and the figure of the professor, adorning and fostering the nation's elite, to the administrative university, centered on excellence and the bureaucratic manager, building brand in a global competition for prestige. In the contemporary university, anticipation of future demands by various stakeholders, including students, government agencies, entities that wish to use university personnel or facilities for research and are willing to pay for it, vague invocations of society itself (leadership and innovation will be required), and occasionally even faculty, are said to require statements of mission and elaborate strategic plans. In the formulation of such statements and plans, democracy and especially diversity are said to require broad based participation. Such statements and plans, however, are rarely used to communicate with stakeholders, at least not directly, not least because they are unreadable. Instead, the process of their creation, through countless committees, endless meetings, and ultimately unbearably long and anodyne reports, creates commitment by the participants, who cannot say they have had no opportunity to express their views. Prognostication thus shades into planning which does much to constitute the organization itself. Institutional prudence and changing circumstances mandate that strategic planning never conclude. The corporate retreat lasts forever; anticipation of the future is the future.

Anticipating good fortune: Islamic welfare organisations and the governance of the future in 21st Indonesia

Author: Kostas Retsikas (SOAS)  email

Short Abstract

The paper is concerned with the manner in which Indonesian Islamic welfare organisations organise the work routines of their employees and everyday activities of their poor beneficiaries with a view to make time pass, hastening the arrival of the future while forecasting its basic contours.

Long Abstract

Development interventions aimed at poverty alleviation and religious metaphysics concerning salvation share the same temporal orientation, one privileging the future at the expense of the present and the past. Based on long term fieldwork in Indonesia, the paper is concerned with the manner in which Islamic charitable organisations organise much of the work routines of their employees, and everyday activities of their poor beneficiaries and donors alike with a view to make time pass, hastening the arrival of the future while foretelling and forecasting its basic contours. A key dimension of the time work accomplished relates to the institutionalisation of motivational sessions undertaken with the explicit aim of unlocking the potential located in the future for purposes of attaining prosperity both in this life and the next. Within such context, the paper pays particular attention to the rise to public prominence of the 'mathematics of alms giving', a time governance and good fortune generation technique that encourages poor and rich alike to divide their property up and spread it around. Such 'generosity' is held to miraculously effectuate a time of plenty, ensuring the gift's eventual return in multiplied value in the not-too-distant future. The convergence of neoliberal standards and Islamist visions such time device supports, find political expression in the movement for the creation of an Indonesian ekonomi Islam, itself based on a new generation of pious Muslim entrepreneurs, easy accessibility to syariah-compliant credit, and the proliferation of training opportunities in business subjects and religious disciplines.

Risk, resilience, and alternative futures: scenario-building at the World Economic Forum

Authors: Christina Garsten (Stockholm University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper discusses The Global Risks Report produced by the World Economic Forum and the models of alternative futures outlined there, as examples of organizational scenario-building and anticipatory knowledge production.

Long Abstract

The implications of globalization and geopolitical shifts are central concerns in think tanks and other organizations geared to producing knowledge about the contemporary world. The World Economic Forum, a nonprofit international organization headquartered in Geneva, concentrates a large part of its work around the production of The Global Risks Report. The paper discusses the The Global Risks Report and the models of alternative futures outlined in the report, as examples of organizational scenario-building. The report draws on expertise available within the different communities and knowledge networks created by the WEF and builds on research, projects, debates and initiatives piloted by the organization. The three scenarios for possible futures developed in this context are discussed with special attention placed on the forms of knowledge underlying their creation. It is suggested that the scenarios articulate a particular form of 'anticipatory knowledge', geared to contribute to the shaping of political priorities and agendas. The scenarios aim to shape perceptions of what constitute 'global problems', and how they might best be addressed and governed. Hence, they contribute to the anticipatory governance of WEF, i.e. governance geared to integrate imaginaries of the future into regulatory processes.

Reading the market: valuation practices, anticipatory knowledge, and storytelling among financial analysts

Author: Stefan Leins (University of Zurich)  email

Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic research in a financial analysis department of an internationally operating bank, this paper looks at valuation practices, anticipatory knowledge and the construction of narratives about uncertain futures in financial markets.

Long Abstract

Understanding and anticipating market movements plays a critical role in current capitalist activity. Assessing the present and engaging in uncertain futures, financial market participants create financial opportunities. At the heart of this process is the work of financial analysts that claim to provide "thorough analyses" of current and future market movements.

In my paper, I describe how financial analysts establish valuation practices and strategies to predict future market movements. Based on ethnographic data collected during two years of fieldwork in the financial analysis department of an internationally operating bank, I illustrate how they combine calculative practices, culturally embedded interpretations and social interaction in order to come up with explanatory stories about current and future market movements. I argue that financial analysts produce these narratives in order to create a sense of agency for financial market participants whose action is surrounded by the uncertainty and instability of the market.

Farming data, anticipating the cloud

Author: Asta Vonderau (Stockholm University)  email

Short Abstract

My paper investigates practices of prognostics related to the management and governance of the cloud. It focuses on technological visions of a connected society and strategies of scale-making, which serve as tools for anticipatory knowledge production within this context.

Long Abstract

My paper investigates practices and strategies of prognostics related to the management and governance of the cloud and data centers as its material form.

Data centers (or "server farms") are industry-scale organizations offering the storage and delivery of data via the Internet. They represent the infrastructure of the cloud and the fastest growing industry world wide, consuming 3% of all global electricity.

Rapidly growing global information streams, their industrial complexities, and the peculiar (i-)materiality of this industry's product, data, make the prediction for data centers' energy needs and storage space requirements particularly important. Development of this industry is just as much dependent on persuasive predictions of the cloud's "positive" social effects which are mostly envisioned in popular images of a connected society (e.g. Internet of Things) as an inevitable future scenario and as a solution for all sorts of social problems.

Based on my current ethnographic research on the data center industry and its implementation in Northern Sweden, this paper investigates how prognostic practices are deployed within this context. It focuses in particular on the strategies of scale-making in between different places and expert groups that are involved in the cloud's industrial processes. The paper demonstrates how supposedly "global" industry trends (visualized in big numbers and abstract graphs) are instrumentalized for fostering decisions and organizational forms at local industrial sites, and how "local" knowledge is integrated into "global" prediction making.

Navigating uncertainties: the risk management of Tullow Oil

Author: Annika Witte (Georg-August-University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper deals with the anticipatory knowledge of the oil company Tullow Oil Uganda. It focuses on Tullow’s risk management as a reflection of core elements of the company’s culture.

Long Abstract

This paper deals with the anticipatory knowledge of an oil company by focusing on its' risk management. Risks are modes of anticipating the future and managing its uncertainties. Oil companies navigate geographical and temporal landscapes filled with uncertainties: the unpredictability of the geological formations, of host governments, of host communities or of the oil price on the international market. To anticipate and manage these uncertainties, the oil companies use risk management tools.

The paper analyses the risk assessment and management of Tullow Oil Uganda. The risk management reflects values held by the company and hence core elements of the company's culture. A major element of Tullow's culture is its safety regime, which is informed by past experiences across the oil industry and calculations of future possibilities. The dominance and display of safety measures within Tullow is meant to handle the risks of accidents, future litigation, image damage and most importantly loss of shareholder value. The paper shows the many ways Tullow tries to create an image of a responsible company. The paper also considers how the risk management is reflected in the company's interaction with Ugandans. To manage the risk of disgruntled hosts, Tullow Oil tries a three-pronged strategy of managing, i.e. lowering expectations, doing "social investment" and helping Ugandan companies enter the oil industry through national content initiatives. The paper is based on an analysis of publications from Tullow Oil and 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Uganda between 2012 and 2015.

Uncertainties around mechanical circulatory support provided by ventricular assistance and the heart transplants

Author: Marisol Marini (Universidade de São Paulo)  email

Short Abstract

This work explores what the mechanical circulatory support is creating in American institutions and in a Brazilian laboratory. I will argue that in the American context, where scientists are proposing eligibility criteria for transplant, more than devices, concepts are being created.

Long Abstract

In the 1970s, technologies for mechanical circulatory support emerged as an alternative to prolong the life of patients who need to replace the "native" organ. Until now, there are not enough organs available to be transplanted, so the main purpose of these devices is to provide survival to patients. According to American researchers however, mechanical circulatory support was developed as a therapy for end-stage heart failure when heart transplantation was not yet a useful treatment modality (because the introduction of cyclosporine, which has enabled the increasing success of heart transplantation, has occurred only in the 1980s). That means that the mechanical circulatory support was preceding to heart transplantation. In fact, since the first heart-lung machine used in open-heart surgeries, the use of artificial devices changed the death concept (now considered as brain death), which made possible to replace human hearts. More than change the life and death concept, howev

er, the wider production and use of mechanical devices now can change the conceptions about how to distribute organs to patients on the waiting list. According to these Americans researchers, considering the Intermacs database, it is possible to identify limiting factors and risk factors. Hence, from the data produced by research with artificial devices it is possible to create a profile of patients and establish who is the most suitable to receive artificial devices or human organs. This work aims to understand what is being created along with mechanical devices and explore the ethical questions related to heart transplantation.

Prophets and profits: reflections on the promises and poetics of 'management gurus'

Authors: Jakob Krause-Jensen (Aarhus University)  email
Karen Lisa Salamon (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

Management gurus have considerable influence over personal and organizational visions and practices. In this paper we will explore the prophetic powers of ‘management gurus’ through the study of Otto Scharmer’s ‘Theory U: leading from the future as it emerges: the social technology of presencing’.

Long Abstract

'Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world' (Shelley 1994 [1820]: 660), wrote English romantic poet Shelley almost 200 years ago. In many ways that epithet fits today's management gurus, whose prophecies and forecasts often address spiritual development and move far beyond organisational restructuring to shape the perspectives and practices of large audiences in contemporary Western societies. As ethnographers who study business organisations, we are fascinated and challenged by the prophecies, poetics, and performance - the persuasive powers —of management gurus and we suggest that anthropology might offer strategies and concepts to understand them. In this paper we want to explore Otto Scharmer's 'Theory U: leading from the future as it emerges: the social technology of presencing' (2007) as an example of a particular form of anticipatory knowledge characterized by the fusion of Romanticist ideas of self-discovery with instrumentalist and rationalist management strategies of goal oriented productivity.

Knowing in advance and foreseeing the future in construction business in Northern Italy

Author: Elena Sischarenco (University of St Andrews)  email

Short Abstract

The capacity to foresee the future is essential in my fieldwork. Construction businessmen, their associations, and the part of the administration which works with them, all try to know and anticipate the future.

Long Abstract

The capacity of thinking ahead is something positive and necessary in many jobs and organisations. I would like to consider three groups of people I worked with and see how they tried to engage in their activities, face risk and anticipate one another by foreseeing future. These three groups are: construction business entrepreneurs, the part of the public administration which engages in tenders preparation and awarding and the association of constructors which brings together many of the construction businessmen. The capacity to foresee the future is an enormous advantage in construction business. How can this capacity be achieved? How can jobs, tender calls and tender results be foreseen or sometimes manipulated? How do entrepreneurs try to face the ever increasing risk in their job and in their decision making process due to the financial and structural crisis? How does the association keep up with the recent radical and rapid changes in the construction market in Italy? How does the public administration try to respond and adapt to the market? Situations of not-knowing or not being in control are part of the job of my informants, but they also can provoke anxiety and a sense of fragility. Trying to anticipate the future is essential and helps overcome everyday uncertainty. I will show ethnographically the situations in which this capacity is practiced, for instance, the process of tender predicting, writing and winning.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.