Welcome to the opening of a pop-up exhibition of IMAGINE, and confront your assumptions about sustainable futures!
When: Thursday 14 December 2023, 3–5 pm Where: Nitja Centre for Contemporary Art, Lillestrøm
IMAGINE presents projects by the students Stine Asbjørnsen, Eren Bal, Christodolous Christodolou, Preeti Kumari Jha, Silius Martinussen Lasskogen, Kumar Sourav Moharana, Haizea Perez, Julianne Pheng, Hamza Simsek, Alex Taylor and Natalia Wanguestel de Luna.
When you think about the future, what do you imagine? Flying cars, tubed food, or high-tech clothing might be among the images that come to mind. IMAGINE sets out to study these images of the future as imaginaries. Imaginaries are the many ways in which we humans think about the future and ways in which they can become possible.
This exhibition presents projects by second-year master students of product design, OsloMet, where they employ principles of speculative, critical design and design fiction to provoke questions and discussions about the imaginaries of a sustainable future.
The Lecturers in charge of the course are Nenad Pavel and James Duncan Lowley. Marie Hebrik from SIFO is the head of the related work package, WP3 Design.
The exhibition is on view from Thursday 14th December to Sunday 17th December 2023 and is realised in collaboration with OsloMet.
On the 26th of September, Work Package 5, EXCHANGE, arranged the next edition of their workshop series, further developing the theoretical framework for the project and connecting the work packages. The workshop’s theme was ‘Imaginaries, Power and Culture’.
The workshop started with an introduction by Dan Welch and Nina Heidenstrøm and went on to updates from all the work packages on their progress before moving on to the theoretical discussions.
Justyna Jakubiec recapitulated the work on novels and movies done by Tamalone van den Eijnden, presented in a previous workshop ‘Negotiating Themes in the Fiction of Futures and the Imaginaries of Consumption’, reminding us of the themes found in them: Techno-Futures, Future according to Social Transformations, Future According to Marginalized Positions and Futures according to Climate Change/Transformation.
Future imaginaries in public policy documents
She went on to resent the work on the policy documents. In her analysis, she has brought in the concept of discourse from Foucault:
Discourses are practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.
In many of the policy documents the focus has shifted over the years included in the study, from primarily having a focus on human health, to wider environmental concerns becoming a more significant part of them in later years. The connection between the environment and human health is often being made more explicitly in the newer document, as in the theme ” imagining through a food for the body”, in the image below.
During her stay in Oslo for the month of September, Justyna Jakubiec spent time doing field work and interviews in Oslo, visiting sites where futures for the three themes, eating, dressing and moving manifest through alternative practices or even through conflicts between ideals of sutainable life, habits and previous ideals. The latter is particularly evident in city planning, where the concerns of public transport and in particular tramways collide with the needs of cyclists, creating roads where cycling is dangerous.
Future imaginaries in business strategy documents
Lisbeth Løvbak Berg then presented the ongoing work on business documents and advertisements under the headline “Themes?”, as these are still being negotiated and will change throughout the analysis. However, some elements could already be drawn out, for example, the focus on local production when it comes to food, but also that different actors have strikingly different approaches to what local production is.
Future imaginaries in advertisements
At this point, advertisements from the same businesses whose documents have been chosen, have been examined. This allows for a comparison with their documents, in some cases underlining their content, and in others providing a contradicting image of the business strategies. Advertisements do not very often explicitly talk about the future; however, they present ideals and aesthetics that may gesture towards it. For food, the aesthetics more often romanticise the past or community, while for transport, the visualisations are more often futuristic. However, technology plays a part in many. The phrase “the future is now” comes to mind.
Work Package 2 – Explore
Audun Kjus presented the findings from the consumer stories on minner.no, referring to the different types of narratives found in them: The Crisis Ladder, Ideals and Utopias of Frugality, Green Abundance, etc. They represent different ways that the consumers see the future developing. The Crisis Ladder would for instance mean that one unfortunate situation leads to another worse, and so on, until a full-fledged crisis unfolds.
He noted that Green Abundance was only set in urban environments, and the gap between the rich and the poor was never addressed in these stories.
A question was asked about how the respondents saw their responsibility regarding a sustainable future. Kjus responded that most of the responses belonged to two categories; one where people had given up; the other where people described the changes they have made themselves and how these were ideals for other people to follow.
Work Package 3 and 4 – Design and Confront
Dan Lockton presented the work that he has done with his students at TU Eindhoven. It ranges from courses to exhibitions and can be found here, on the TU/e Researching the Future Everyday website. In this work, an important question is “How do design students explore other people’s imaginaries?”, or even their own imaginaries. One way that this is examined is by confronting the students with a job ad from the future: Dear Design Graduates of 2023, WE NEED YOU. Here they are presented with future design jobs such as Human-Machine Collaboration Designer, and what this job entails.
James Lowley and Nenad Pavel presented student work done so far. One example was particularly pertinent in showing the relevance of critical design when imagining the future of shared, driverless cars as Ruter#, the Greater Oslo public transport company, is currently planning the introduction of such cars. The student project very efficiently asks the question: “What can possibly go wrong with self-driving cars?”
Theorising Imaginaries, Power and Culture
Dan Welch led the next sessions, where Justyna Jakubiec first presented a glossary that is being developed for the project. The aim of the glossary is for the project consortium to negotiate common definitions for the concepts used in the project. This is particularly useful as the consortium combines a range of different disciplines. In the following group work, concepts to add to it were discussed and the glossary is in constant development.
Following this, Atle Wehn Hegnes introduced the different texts in the proposed readings for the day (you can find them listed below). We then discussed them and their relevance for IMAGINE in groups, focusing on the following topics:
Where does IMAGINE position itself related to these three research agendas?
What are we doing differently?
What is our unique contribution?
There was agreement that the material aspects of futuring practices, e.g., through design, was something that IMAGINE brings that is often omitted.
Another question asked was “Does the distinction made between narratives and imaginaries made in the texts have relevance to IMAGINE, is it helpful?”. Some thought this was helpful; that the two concepts define two different layers, where imaginaries represent the overarching ideas of the world, that are often not expressed directly, and narratives are the stories we tell about the world, where the imaginaries shine through. This is a discussion we will continue going forward.
Discussion on Collaborative Publications
Dan Welch presented a range of publication possibilities and a quick round table brought forward several publications that are already on their way. We then divided into groups according to our research interests, ranging from social transformation to ethics. The following discussions uncovered many more exciting synergies and publication prospects!
10 am – 12 pm: Sharing Progress and Plans
The first session will be an opportunity to hear from each of the Work Packages about work in progress, preliminary results and plans for the rest of the project.
12 – 12.45 pm Lunch
12.45 – 2.15 pm: Theorising Imaginaries, Power and Culture
In this session we would like to engage with thinking around the power and performativity of imaginaries – drawing both on the IMAGINE project’s empirical research and theoretical orientations and other work. To facilitate these discussions, we invite you to read two or more of the attached recent papers, listed below, as well as something from the wider reading list attached.
2.15 – 2.45 pm: Coffee
2.45 – 4 pm: Discussion on Collaborative Publications
In this session, we would like to consider how we can collaborate across the IMAGINE project, both in terms of a major project publication, such as a Special Issue, and in terms of collaborative publications across WPs.
Suggested reading for Theorising Imaginaries, Power and Culture
Bazzani (2023) “Futures in Action: Expectations, Imaginaries and Narratives of the Future” Sociology Vol. 57(2) 382–397
Oomen, Hofman and Hajer (2021) “Techniques of futuring: On how imagined futures become socially performative” European Journal of Social Theory [2022 Vol 25(2)]
Adloff and Nickell (2019) “Futures of sustainability as modernization, transformation, and control: a conceptual framework” Sustainability Science 14 (4):1015–1025 – NB: this paper sets out a research agenda for the University of Hamburg Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies ‘Futures of Sustainability’ programme. It is usefully read with along with commentary piece:
Delanty (2021) “Futures of sustainability: Perspectives on social imaginaries and social transformation. A comment on Frank Adloff and Sighard Neckel’s research program” Social Science Information DOI: 10.1177/0539018421999562
Jasanoff S (2015) Future Imperfect: Science, Technology, and the Imaginations of Modernity’ In: Jasanoff S and Kim S-H (eds) Dreamscapes of Modernity: Sociotechnical Imaginaries and the Fabrication of Power. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 1-33
Ricoeur P (1976) Ideology and Utopia as Cultural Imagination. Philosophic Exchange 7(1): 17-28.
Watson M (2017) Placing power in practice theory. In: Hui, A., Schatzki, T. and Shove, E., (eds.) The Nexus of Practices: Connections, constellations, practitioners. Routledge: London, pp. 169-182.
Lythgoe, E. (2014) Social imagination, abused memory, and the political place of history in Memory, History, Forgetting. Études Ricoeuriennes, 5(2), 35–47.
IMAGINE researcher, James Lowley presented at the GreenMet seminar “The role of narratives for sustainability” on Friday the 17th of February 2023. The seminar was a collaboration with the Henrik Steffens Professorate at the Europa-Institut, University of Hamburg and the GreenMet group at Oslo Metropolitan University. GreenMet is a self-organised group of researchers, academics and students at Oslo Metropolitan University. They organise bi-annual seminars on different sustainability themes.
This seminar presented work from both students and researchers in an open, hybrid seminar.
The first presenter, Dr Dörte Linke’s presentation “Imagination and force of actions – the role of fiction within ecological discourse”, underlines that humans have to create narratives to orient themselves but that the ecological discourse is a large and specific narrative in itself about humanity that has ruined nature and a vulnerable planet. This not only has ontological implications but also structural.
Each time a story helps me remember what I thought I knew, or introduces me to new knowledge, a muscle critical for caring about flourishing gets some aerobic exercise. Such exercise enhances collective thinking and movement in complexity. Each time I trace a tangle and add a few threads that at first seemed whimsical but turned out to be essential to the fabric, I get a bit straighter that staying with the trouble of complex worlding is the name of the game of living and dying well together on terra, in Terrapolis.
Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble. Making kin in the Chthulucene, 2016, p. 29
Drawing on the work of Donna Haraway, Charlotte Weitze, and Josefine Klougart, Linke reminds us how we live in and with our narrative and that how they are performed and lived by us can and should be changed.
Following, the four students from Hamburg University, Jacqueline Peterhans, Ramona Tyler, Sara Vaders and Tabea Ylä-Outinen, presented “Humanistic Ecology and the carrier bag theory”.
Drawing on Donna Haraway’s concept of “making kin”, Orsola Le Guin’s carrier bag theory (the carrier bag of fiction and natural history) and Tsing’s concepts of assemblage (ecological community, open-ended gatherings between multispecies) and coordination (the unintentional coordination that develops patterns in assemblages), the students presented case studies of four places in Germany where the narratives of human and nature interacting is breaking with the habitual idea of humanity as a destructor, where human action has given room for something new, a new interaction between species.
Last, but not least, James Lowley’s presentation “Provotypes & Mediations: Engagement in, through and with Speculative Design”, challenged the narrative of design as problem-solving, both through examples of how it changes, and has always changed cultural practice, and how it can be used to ask questions.
Albert Borgmann’s Device Paradigm discusses the loss of cultural practice and multisensory rituals connected to the use of devices. They are seen as just a means to an end, and other effects are ignored, namely that through actions we shape the world and it shapes us. To challenge this, speculative design creates means to provoke, i.e., provotypes: “ethnographically rooted, technically working, robust artefacts that deliberately challenge stakeholder conceptions”.
The prime objective of speculative design is to force an aspect of the future into the present so that it demands a response
Tonkinwise, How We Intend To Future, 2014.
By making futures imaginable, tangible, we potentially make them possible. Asking questions such as:
What happens if humans adapt to ecological circumstances rather than the opposite?
Rick first presented the reasoning for the work with the contextual framework. This is linked to Paul Ricoeur’s ideas of imagination as an ecological project, existing not just in the human mind but fluctuating between reproductive and productive imagination. As a result of their explorations, Rick and Tamalone have come up with some proposals, common threads and ways to look at the imaginaries. These themes were presented for discussion and negotiation.
Tamalone then presented the findings within each theme, which was followed by a group discussion and feedback in plenary.
Their analysis of popular cultural imaginaries identified themes in films, novels, cartoons and advertising, specifically looking at the project’s three cases, dressing, eating and moving.
In the different themes, different aspects drive the future: technology, social innovation, de-colonisation, external factors like weather and catastrophes etc.
Stories around technology, where technology drives the future, dominate the findings, but the other themes that might be considered more marginal should definitely be part of our project. The work shows that there are many narratives going on already which can help us de-territorialise and decolonise how we think about the future and capture other power structures and narratives. They may help us imagine other stories and ways of being, as well as objects and things influencing our imagination.
Thoughts about the future imaginaries
Some commonalities were found – the sources always relate back to the nature of human beings and discuss this; in many of the catastrophe films it is almost irrelevant what the element is or why the catastrophe has come about, they serve as constraints for humans and reflections around human nature/behaviour.
It was striking how few utopian imaginaries are presented in popular culture – in our day-to-day, we usually think of technology as a force of liberation but in representations, it often represents a threat or constraints of some sort.
The ways in which some of our current practices resemble some of the imaginaries were also discussed, e.g., how protein shakes have become a common source of nourishment but that the highly processed food in some films does not seem so appealing.
Group Work Session
This was an opportunity to discuss in person the ongoing and upcoming work and plan ahead.
The group discussed how the conceptual framework for the project consists of both the contextual framework from WP1 and the theoretical framework from WP5, and how these two frameworks interact. Rick and Tamalone’s summary report of their findings will give a contextual framework and a few directions for continuing the work with the theoretical framework.
So far, the work with both frameworks has shown that their development needs to be an ongoing negotiation, a dialogical process, starting from the online workshop in June. Furthermore, Dan Welch proposed to base it on Ricoeur and Practice Theory – practice theory being the common ground for most of the project participants and Ricoeur being at the foundation of the project application, combining imaginaries and practices.
We were happy to learn from Audun Kjus that 71 stories about the future had been collected for WP2 on minner.no, approaching our goal of 100. The stories are not just about what the future is going to be but also about how, and they contain a lot of emotions. There is also much more heterogeneity than we are led to believe. The group then discussed how we can start to analyse these stories.
WPs 3 & 4
The group discussed the development and implementation of the upcoming 6-week course for the Product Design students at OsloMet, due to start in November. During the workshop, it was decided to engage students from Drama, Art, Fashion and Product Design together and make a joint exhibition. Here the inclusion of drama students will allow for performative confrontations that explore the future through other means than things.
10 – 10. 15 am: Face to Face (!) Welcome by Dan
10.15 – 11.30 am: Contextual Framework Session – Rick and Tamalone present work in progress and discussion
11.30 – 11.45 am: Coffee
11.45 – 1.15 pm: Group Work
Group 1: (WPs 1 & 2) Atle, Harald, Virginie, Dan Welch, Rick, Tamalone, Audun, Lisbeth
Group 2: (WPs 3 & 4) Nenad, James, Marie, Dan Lockton, Henry, Joanne, Heidi, Niels Peter
1.15 – 2 pm: Lunch
2 – 3 pm: Feedback from Group sessions & Next Steps
Group Session questions:
– What are the upcoming activities and tasks this autumn?
– What are the main challenges?
– What do we need from other WPs?
– How can we collaborate within and across WPs?
– Does the theoretical framework work help us and in what ways (or not really)? Is there anything we would like to feed into the theoretical framework? (NB: the ‘theoretical framework’ is not intended to constrain WPs or set boundaries for theorising in IMAGINE, it is a WP5 work-stream in dialogue with the other WPs).
Work package 5, EXCHANGE, arranged a workshop on Zoom over the span of two days last week. The workshop’s theme was ‘Towards a Conceptual Framework for Contested Imaginaries of Sustainability’.
The workshop on June 7th started with an introduction by Dan Welch and Nina Heidenstrøm with an update on all of the work packages. The first session was Jo Cramer‘s presentation on Fashion and Imaginaries. She introduced literature on contested futures, theories and definitions of fashion.
The second session of Tuesday’s workshop was about speculative design and design fiction, and was led by Dan Lockton, Marie Hebrok, and Nenad Pavel. They discussed how speculative design can be used to make imaginaries tangible and open for critical discussion, and argued that speculative design has the potential to democratise future imaginaries by involving more people and distributing the power to define. After a presentation by Dan, Marie, and Nenad the attendees imagined an ordinary Tuesday in a more sustainable future in groups and visualised and presented it by using an online whiteboard. The aim was to increase our own awareness of how we are influenced by imaginaries of sustainability.
Day 2 of the workshop, Thursday, began with an introduction of Ricœur through the concepts of memory and imagination, by Rick Dolphijn. Tamalone van den Eijnden followed with a presentation of (re)productive imagination as processes with different economic and social values and the (Marxist) feminist critique of this. The session ended with a discussion of how a theory of careful imagination could enrich the project. We also discussed how the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey reproduced older narratives and influenced science fiction movies, and used an online whiteboard to examine how space odysseys are (re)produced.
Nina Heidenstrøm and Dan Welch led the next session, where they talked about sociology and the future historically, and through practice theory and socio-temporal rhythms. They also presented results from the project Imagined futures of consumption (manchester.ac.uk).
Thursday’s final session was led by oral storyteller Heidi Dahlsveen, and it was a combination of storytelling and practical exercises like memory games and reflections on first time experiences – Kairos moments, that touched upon and summarized the themes from the previous sessions.
Through the workshop, we also talked about the next steps, reading lists and groups sessions and our next meeting and roundtable at the ESA midterm conference in Oslo this fall.
June 7th Day 1: Design and Fashion
12.15 – 12.30pm: Welcome and Introduction to the Workshops – Dan Welch and Nina Heidenstrøm
12.30 – 1.15pm: Fashion and Imaginaries – Jo Cramer
1.15 – 1.45pm Lunch
1.45 – 2.45pm: Design Fiction/Speculative Design – Dan Lockton, Marie Hebrok, Nenad Pavel
2.45 – 3pm: Concluding Thoughts
June 9th Day 2: Sociology, Philosophy and Storytelling
10.20 – 10.30am: Welcome – Dan Welch and Nina Heidenstrøm
10.30 – 11.30am: Ricœur: Ideologies and Utopia (Philosophy) – Rick Dolphijn, Virginie Amilien, Tamalone van den Eijden
11.30 – 11.45am: Break
11.45 – 12.45pm: Practice Theory and Imaginaries (Sociology) – Nina Heidenstrøm and Dan Welch
12.45 – 1.15pm: Lunch
1.15 – 1.30pm: Storytelling and Imaginaries: Heidi Dahlsveen
1.30 – 2.30 pm: Concluding Thoughts and Next Steps
Together with a group from the Department of Design at OsloMet they are there to promote ongoing research projects. Head of studies, Julia Jacoby, included IMAGINE in her presentation «Innovation for sustainability – design research initiatives from Norway».
The IMAGINE consortium gathered for the first time on Zoom on the 26th of January 2022. We would have preferred to be present in the same physical space, since getting to know each other on a screen is not the same. Hopefully the pandemic will allow for such a meeting in the near future. Nevertheless, we had an inspiring day of listening to and discussing each others perspectives and experiences, and are looking forward to embarking on the numerous tasks of IMAGINE. This was our agenda:
Welcome and introduction to IMAGINE
Theories of imagination
Rick Dolphijn and Virginie Amilien
Ethnological methods and archive question lists
10 min break
Research through design and art – tangible imaginaries
Dan Lockton, Nenad Pavel, Joanne Cramer
Creating a space for critical discussion, mutual understanding and co-creation
Marie Hebrok and Æra innovation studio
Platforms for knowledge exchange
30 min lunch break
Communication and dissemination
Harald Throne-Holst and Henry Mainsah
Summing up, discussion, practical issues, and planning