The way in which we make sense of the uncertainty of the future and reconcile this with the desire to create better futures takes multiple forms: predictions, models, scenarios, stories, social action, the creation of artefacts and interpersonal commitments.

Today, however, the resources that policy‐makers, institutions and citizens have to support anticipation are changing: from the intensifying use of big data and modelling, to the creation of new professions such as the 'futures expert' or the 'life coach', professions that Jenny Andersson has described as a new ‘futures factory’. At the same time, the futures that are being imagined today are futures in which conceptual confusion about how to deal with uncertainty sits alongside compelling popular and scientific narratives of apocalyptic environmental decline or radical technological breakthroughs.

Despite the centrality of the future to human endeavour, however, the current research into anticipatory practices and how these shape our world is fragmented across multiple disciplines; the conceptual and practical gains that might be made by building productive conversations across disciplinary divides are being missed. Enhancing our understanding of how people and groups anticipate, the way that anticipatory practices are differentially distributed, and the consequences of different modes of anticipation, is an urgent task if we are to develop the resources to thrive in contemporary conditions of rapid and intensifying (Archer, 2013) political, institutional, technological, and ecosystemic change. This project of reconceptualising futures, temporality and social change is at the heart of an emerging global discipline of anticipation which is being led by scholars at Bristol.

The work of this research group will be to understand 'Anticipation' as the set of multiple, sometimes contradictory and overlapping mechanisms by which humans, as individuals and as societies, imagine and model the future, and use it consciously or unconsciously to change the present so that a different future might result (Poli, 2016, forthcoming). Understanding this phenomenon clearly requires insights that extend beyond an individual discipline. To that end, the group will begin to lay the foundations for a new Discipline of Anticipation by:

  • Identifying how Anticipation is currently understood and conceptualised across the humanities, social sciences, arts and engineering.
  • Developing a taxonomy of Anticipatory practices that is sufficient for productive cross‐disciplinary dialogue.
  • Building understanding of how Anticipatory practices work at different scales, are differentially distributed and interact to shape individual, institutional and social action.
  • Creating new conceptual and methodological tools to enrich the repertoire of Anticipatory practices as resources for human flourishing.
  • Experimenting with different techniques, tools, models and resources to enrich the repertoire of Anticipatory practices.

This research group, while being led by FSSL, brings together researchers from four faculties who are working on diverse anticipatory strategies and seeks to build productive dialogue and interconnections between them. In sum, it aims to enhance the repertoire of intellectual resources available to support societies, citizens and policy makers to imagine, understand and influence 'the future'.

Group lead

To join this group, please email the group leader with details of your relevant research interests.

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