The Research project

  • Sciences PoSciences Po

The future offers a particular challenge for the governance of contemporary societies. A characteristic of modern societies is their belief in the knowability and governability of the future in their faith that the future can be known and controlled. Futurepol aims at understanding how contemporary societies attempt to know and govern the future, and how contemporary forms of future governance reflect claims of predictability and control. How European societies create futures? How and why do ideas of the future emerge at a certain moment? How does the future become a scientific and political object? These questions will give us new knowledge of how societies in different contexts over time and space deal with conflicting future visions.

The different issues raised by the project

Futurepol is one of the first research projects to look into the history and uses of prediction, including the role of predictive experts and their influence on central decision making structures in different political regimes. While the project posits the problem of the governing of the long term can be handled scientifically and politically in different political systems, Futurepol is fundamentally interested in the general problems posed by the long term and by the very specific activity of prediction. Throughout the post war period, there was a debate about the problem posed to representational systems by the long term. How should political systems deal with the fact that the decisions of the present have consequences over time and carry over on future generations? In the absence of living citizens, how should futures be represented and brought into decision-making processes? Why is it that different political systems seem to give different weight to experts and scientists, vs publics and even children, ie the coming generation, in order to deal with this problem? How come there are future parliaments in certain countries, and councils of scientific advisors, in others? The activity of prediction itself is a highly specific form of knowledge production in which ‘facts’, often referred to as predictive, artificial, or synthetic facts, are produced through the explicit reliance on experts. Through the fundamental uncertainties associated with the long term, such experts seem to gain a particular salience, and their often highly specific knowledge becomes privileged at the expense of other, often more critical, forms and ways of relating to the long term. Prediction is therefore a quintessentially powered activity, and its social role needs to be understood.

First outcomes

Since the beginning of the project in January 2012, Futurepol has built a bulk of historical knowledge of the emergence of prediction in the fields of political science and international relations in the Cold War period, and begun to understand the reasons why post war political systems, and liberal as well as authoritarian states perceived a need to produce forms of knowledge and institutions that could control the future. In both cases this was directly related to the fear of potential unforeseeable events in the shape of either international conflict, or value revolution on the domestic level. Liberal democracies as well as authoritarian regimes therefore saw prediction as a potential tool with which to extend the power of the state and foresee possible threats to it, including tensions arising from the spread of education and democracy in the 1950s and 1960s. This historical knowledge provides the foundation for our further research on fundamental changes in the political usage of prediction, and has also made an impact of prevailing understandings of the rationalities of scientific production in the Cold War era as well as the nature of the post war state.


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