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 is a collective research project devoted to the activity labeled futurology, future research, or futures studies in the Cold War era. A team of five researchers, Futurepol was based on a transnational approach to futurists as predictive experts and to how they interacted with political regimes East, West, and eventually on the global level.
Futurepol asked the question, How does the future become a scientific and political object? Through which kinds of knowledge practices and which forms of expertise does the future become knowable and influentiable? The activity of prediction 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. Pooling research from researchers with different competence and knowledge, and working through an impressive range of archival collections all over the world, Futurepol has constituted a unique knowledge on the history of prediction and futurism.
The project has been conducted around four different axes:
1: the circulation of predictive knowledge in a global field, and the role of futurology, future research and futures studies as a reflection on the Cold War and post Cold war era, Jenny Andersson
2: Prediction and globality: the construction of “world” or “common problems” in the 1960s and 1970s and world modeling as a tool of world consciousness, Sibylle Duhautois and Adam Freeman
3: futurology, systems analysis, and reform communism, Viteszlav Sommer and Egle Rindzeviciute
4: Future research and planning, Jenny Andersson and Pauline Prat
Outcomes and conclusions
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, international relations and economics, in the Cold War period. The project offers several key conclusions for contemporary intellectual and political history: 1. Future research was a carrier of emergent reflections on globality, and such visions of planetary or global interdependence were in fact constituted by the activity of prediction, as illustrated by the example of world modeling or scenarios of world order. We demonstrate the shift, here, in the use of predictive tools, from representations of bipolarity, to representations of world commonalities and shared futures, and we pinpoint the link between the ideas of humanity, world, and future in the post 1945 era.
2. The intellectual history of futurism allows to show that prediction is a highly hetereogenous activity, which draws both on forms of scientificity, and on the active mobilization of the human imagination. Within Cold War prediction, we see both determinist attempts at control of the post Cold War world, and attempts to use the idea of the future as a bridge to an imagined, peaceful and harmonious human world beyond bipolarity.
3. Futurepol has gained important insights into prediction as an ‘unruly field’ in which we see, over time, the constitution of a specific form of futuristic expertise. Such predictive experts are active in high level processes of governance from the 1970s onwards, but their expertise relies to an important extent on forms of knowledge production that we can link to neoliberalism, in particular through paid advice and think-tank activity.
4. Futurepol has shown how post war political systems of liberal as well as authoritarian states perceived a need to produce forms of knowledge and institutions that could control the future. This was directly related to the fear of potential unforeseeable events of ‘trends’ in world order as well as value revolutions 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. 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.