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IMAGINE at the ESA Conference

The last week of August/first of September was a busy one for the IMAGINE consortium. The day after the ‘Negotiating Themes in the fiction of Futures and the Imaginaries of Consumption’-workshop in Oslo, The European Sociological Association (ESA)’s Research Network of Sociology of Consumption Conference, hosted by Consumption Research Norway at the OsloMet main campus started. The theme for the conference was “Consumption, justice and futures: Where do we go from here? (oslomet.no)“. 146 participants from all over Europe gathered for the event and among them, many from the IMAGINE consortium.

The leader of WP5 EXCHANGE, Dan Welch was invited as a keynote speaker (oslomet.no) and Project Coordinator Atle Wehn Heggnes and Dan Welch led a Roundtable Discussion (conftool.org) about the project.

Keynote: Social Futures and the Sociology of Consumption

Dan Welch presented the history of futures, imaginares and utopias in Sociology, reminding us that the focus on past and current situations is relatively new. The origins of Sociology, socialism and utopia were in fact fundamentally intertwined in nineteenth century Europe: H.G. Wells, a contender for the first Chair of Sociology in the UK, suggested in 1906:

“…the creation of Utopias – and their exhaustive criticism – is the proper and distinctive method of sociology”.

H.G. Wells is of course more popularly known for his science fiction writing, in particular War of the Worlds (1898). Through his utopian novels, he imagined aircraft, tanks, space travel, nuclear weapons, satellite television and something resembling the World Wide Web.

An example of previous imaginaries of the future of consumption, that was mentioned, came from a completely different realm – one of design and product development: the 1950s ‘kitchen of the future’ (digitaltrends.com). They did not get everything right, but they did foresee the robot vacuum cleaner, among other things.

Photo: Robot vacuum cleaner in the kitchen of the future (Source: Tumblr).

These are examples of how future imaginaries have somehow informed the future or become reality, that, along with contemporary imaginaries from various stakeholders are increasingly becoming an object of study for Sociology – developing a Sociology of the future.

Welch also presented his previous work with imaginaries in the project Imagined futures of consumption (manchester.ac.uk) as well as his current work with IMAGINE.

You can read the full keynote abstract here (oslomet.no)

Roundtable: IMAGINE: Contested Futures of Sustainability

In the roundtable session, project Coordinator Atle Wehn Hegnes presented the project and its underpinnings, and Dan Welch went on to present the theoretical framework, as discussed in the workshop earlier the same week.

The presentations were followed by lively discussions with not only questions to the speakers, but also conversations between people in the audience. Subjects brought up ranged from how to help students imagine future scenarios and go beyond what they already know – here polarity maps were mentioned as a possible tool – to interesting projects and approaches that the audience knew about.

Some concepts, projects and thoughts discussed:
  • Narratives in policy shaping the future
  • Sustainable consumption was «invented» to reframe capitalism in a light that makes it look feasible as the underpinnings of capitalism were being thoroughly contested.
  • What is radical change: A question of scale – new business models may seem like productive imaginaries on a micro-scale but on a macro-scale, they are only reproducing the current systems.
  • Solar punk
  • College core
  • Long perspectives – knowing about alternatives is not enough, you need to feel them.
  • Hydroponics and future food production
  • The sociology of hope
  • Lund University Climaginaries Project (lu.se)
  • Carbon ruins: museum for the fossil age (climaginaries.org)
  • Embodied futures


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