Now the dust has settled on the Anticipation 2017 Conference, I think it’s time just to reflect on the event, who was there, what happened, what we learned and what pointers the conference offers to the future of the field of Anticipation Studies.
The most remarkable feature of the conference was its huge interdisciplinarity – there were specialists in heritage futures talking alongside scholars of post normal science; philosophers and management scientists; critical pedagogues and specialists in divination. What was important, though, was that these groups were talking with each other across difference – there was a commitment to listening and an openness to exploring different perspectives that was truly astonishing, enlivening and productive.
The event also drew in individuals and groups working in diverse sectors – not just academics (although these were in the majority), but also policy makers, government scientists and futures professionals. There was a generosity and openness to learning across these sectors and genuinely exploring the different questions and priorities that each group was working on.
The curated sessions were particularly strong – these brought together a series of papers or contributions that were actively connected and curated and allowed for a real depth of discussion. The paper sessions, however, brought together some remarkable juxtapositions and surprising connections, stimulating unexpected discussions.
With six parallel sessions running throughout the event, it was impossible to see everything that was going on and the path I wove through the conference will necessarily be different from the path that others will have taken. Interesting questions and areas for further development that the conference prompted for me were:
1. What are the ethics of anticipation? What is our responsibility? The paper by Deborah Osberg and the session led by Ted Fuller opened up these questions nicely and prompted important future theoretical and practical developments.
2. What are the boundaries between anticipation, design and futures studies? This we will explore in the Special Issue arising from the conference – see call for papers here. Reviewing the papers, it seems clear that Anticipation Studies could be understood as the study of the phenomenon of using the future in the present, and that both design and futures studies are practices that are oriented to this process, and therefore could be studied as forms of anticipation – but I’m sure there will be different opinions in respect of this question.
3. What is the balance we must strike between planning and emergence? A recurrent theme throughout many sessions, but one we haven’t really worked through yet.
4. Affect, emotion and embodiment – there was remarkably little, still, in the formal papers and sessions about these questions in relation to anticipation – and yet, questions of affect were latent in many of the discussions. Fear, hope, joy, pleasure, anxiety are all such central elements of anticipation, these feelings are deeply embodied and experienced physically not simply cognitively – it seems strange that there was such little discussion of this – are we scared of discussing these elements of our relationship with the future? Two important and powerful interventions in this area were the curated session from the Cardiff Futures team that both evoked and analysed the emotional and affective issues of grounded futures work with young women experiencing sexual violence and their reframing of this to create alternative futures; and Tomie Hahn’s banding workshop, that enabled participants to rapidly explore and experience physical connections and anticipation with others.
Finally, I was left with a desire to know more about the practices of divination and invocation. The sessions looking at African divination practices (in particular David Zeitlyn’s analysis of the work of Mambila spider divination) were revealing in what they tell us about the types of questions we risk asking about the future, and those that we don’t. While Maja Kuzmanovic’s powerful closing keynote reminded us of the power of invocation – of calling up, summoning and setting intentions for the future.
Where does this leave Anticipation as a field?
As I’ve already said, I think we should now understand Anticipation first as a phenomenon – a subject of empirical study, where we can ask how anticipation takes place both in the human tradition (drawing on cultural, social, historical and philosophical studies) and in the systems tradition (drawing on computing, biology, organisational theory). We can also understand Anticipation as a practice – at which one can get better – in other words, the conference showed us the range of tools and resources that support us as individuals and institutions to develop more reflexive and careful ways of using the future in the present. This, to me, suggests we might think of Anticipation as a field concerned with practical wisdom – developing an understanding of the phenomenon (how it happens) and putting this into constant dialogue with our own practice of it (how we might do this differently). We are concerned both with theory and practice and we can, as this conference has shown so clearly, draw upon a huge range of knowledge, understanding and expert practice both inside universities and beyond.
And what would I change for next time? It would be great to see the diverse cultures of anticipation fully participating in the conference. We need to work out how to overcome the barriers to this and make the network as open and welcoming as possible. The absence of cultural and geographical diversity of experience in the network is a problem – we need to understand and to practice Anticipation from the perspectives of the global south as well as the north and west. We also need to ask whether we can better understand anticipation from feminist, critical race and critical disability perspectives – we need to make sure that we recognise that anticipation is not simply the preserve of elite groups, but is strengthened and deepened by the theoretical and practical resources of those historically marginalised.
This is just the beginning… watch out for the next event in Oslo in 2019 and for the call for Expressions of Interest to host in 2021.
Finally – my thanks to all of the members of the scientific committee for their reviewing work; to the organising committee for their support, practical contributions and leadership; and to all of the delegates for generating such a fantastic event that will live long in the memory. To prompt those memories, do have a look at the photos here (tbd).