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.
The magazine A Magasinet from the newspaper Aftenposten (The Evening Post) is asking: – Millions of jobs will soon disappear. What are we going to be doing in the future?
The article references the World Economic Forum’s prediction from this summer that 81 million jobs probably will disappear within the next few years and the list of 100 jobs of the future developed by researchers at Deakin and Griffith University in Australia. The list includes (drone) swarm artist, ethical hacker and genetics coach.
The journalists interviewed several people on the subject, including Imagine project leader Nina Heidenstrøm. For the interview, she delved into the stories collected on minner.no to say something about the future of work:
“The cliché has taught us: nobody can predict the future. But it is nevertheless possible to fantasise and imagine. Humans always have.
What do you see then? Food on tubes? Robot take-overs? Flying cars? That we will live on a strange planet? Then you’re not alone.
– These classic future images are strikingly constant. They are reproduced over and over again, says Nina Heidenstrøm, senior researcher at Consumption Research Norway SIFO, OsloMet.
She leads the research project Imagine, where the goal is to engage people in active reflection about how they imagine the future. The project will result in an exhibition next year. According to Heidenstrøm, many people speak of hope and dreams of a slow life. The ambition is not to be part of the rat race. Many people like the thought of both 6-hour work days and four-day work weeks.
– The decidedly most dominating fear is that life will be tougher economically and that one will have to work more.”
What do Norwegian consumers think about the future of eating, dressing and moving?
This summer, the project note “Images of the future. Reporting on the minner.no data collection”, was published. Written by Audun Kjus, Harald Throne-Holst and Atle Wehn Hegnes, it is based on a collection of stories about the future from Norwegian consumers.
This is a deliverable from Work Package 2 – “Explore” in the research project IMAGINE: Contested Futures of Sustainability. The aim of the WP is to collect narratives about the future from the Norwegian population through a questionnaire distributed in collaboration with the Norwegian Ethnological Research (NEG). The note examines 123 stories, collected from May 2022 to June 2023.
We asked one of the authors, Atle Wehn Hegnes, to tell us about the report.
The report is in Norwegian, citing the Norwegian consumer stories, can you give an overview of what it contains for English-speaking readers? What can they expect to find in it when they use Google Translate?
The project note is divided into three main parts. The first part concerns background, objectives, methods, and sources. The second part, titled “Narratives,” looks into overarching themes and ways that people talk about the future, which include “the crisis ladder,” “modernity and morality,” and “frugality.” In the third part, “Dimensions,” we have identified some recurring themes in the material that appear across multiple narratives. The appendix presents the results in a matrix, showcasing the breadth of narratives about the consumption areas of food, clothing, and transportation. In sum, English-speaking readers, if they use Google Translate, will hopefully find a general presentation of future scenarios based on responses from 123 contributors. We hope that the narratives and themes can be understood as relevant to the ongoing discussions about the future of sustainability in Norway and insights into how the Norwegian population perceives and imagines different aspects of their future, especially related to consumption and sustainability.
What kind of stories did you find?
The stories we collected ranged from optimistic to pessimistic, shaped by contributors’ attitudes towards for example modernity, technology, and humanity’s potential.
Some optimistic stories embrace modernity and technology, seeing them as tools for positive change. Contributors expressed faith in technological advancements, such as implants for health monitoring or sustainable textile production, as a way to support freedom, reason, and global development. Some believed that people inherently desire cooperation, safety, and harmony, and that with time, they would overcome restrictive traditions and ideologies to create a better future.
Pessimistic stories, on the other hand, focused on the challenges posed by cultural, historical, as well as the influence of capital forces. They saw these obstacles as formidable counterforces against progress. While some acknowledged that renewal through research and idealism could lead to a better society, they expressed doubts that humanity would overcome ingrained greed and ignorance. They identified humanity’s inherent negative qualities as the fundamental problem, highlighting issues such as overconsumption, population growth, and the abuse of power by certain groups.
In the report, you describe how the topics of the stories shifted over time. What were these shifts?
The report reflects work that was carried out in the spring of 2023, using material that was collected from the spring of 2022 to the spring of 2023. A lot has happened during this period. The world was emerging from a pandemic but was at the same time entering into a war when the collection began. Around halfway through the period, ChatGPT was launched, electricity prices in Norway increased drastically, and the interest rate was on the rise. Our material shows that our imaginings of the future are shaped by these events and by the state of society today.
Were there findings that surprised you in particular?
In this early stage of analysis, the optimism about the past, and how it impacts our understandings and hope for the future, is something I find interesting. Although it may not be particularly surprising.
So then, what are the visions of the future of eating, dressing and moving among the respondents?
They are numerous and complex, and that is what makes IMAGINE, this material, and this project note exciting to work with further. We already now see that there are more people with visions for travel and food in the future than about clothing. This is interesting in the sense that it can tell us something about which areas of consumption are getting attention, and that this might change. However, it’s difficult to give a good answer to this question now, but I will hopefully give a more nuanced answer if you ask me the same question again in a few months.
From 22nd – 24th of May, Marie Hebrok and James Lowley went to Eindhoven University of Technology to visit Dan Lockton. The purpose of the visit was both to share experiences and to work with the students at TU Eindhoven.
The three researchers discussed their experiences with and the outcomes of the design courses that they have been running at OsloMet and Eindhoven as part of the IMAGINE project. They also made plans for the development of the planned IMAGINE exhibition toward the end of 2024.
James and Marie hosted a lecture and workshop on food future imaginaries with MA design students attending the course Researching the Future Everyday.
Together with the students they reflected on and visualized how futures of food and eating are imagined – how imaginaries manifest in the present – and what the role of design is.
They also got the chance to visit the RetroFuture exhibition at The Evoluon – that “explores how we envisioned the future in the past, while reflecting on our understanding of the future today”.
DREAMING OF THE FUTURE We all dream about the future. Do we dream about the Earth, the Moon, or the universe? About how we can all live together peacefully, or how we might end up living in a nightmare? Or about all of the things that will be made possible thanks to technology and science? And how do past dreams and the here and now affect the way we think about the future?
We would like to welcome Justyna Jakubiec to SIFO!
She joined the project recently and this is her first visit of two during the IMAGINE project. She is visiting from our partner Utrecht University, where she is currently a Research Assistant, after having finished her RMA thesis on “Science Fiction Film and Becoming Otherwise: Woundedness, Posthuman Performativity, and Reinventing Subjectivity”.
Her visit kicked off with a workshop between WP1 and WP2 on the 29th March and she is working closely with Virginie Amlien and the other SIFO researchers in the project during her stay.
Working on the IMAGINE project since February, together with Rick Dolphijn I am part of WP1, focusing on identifying dominant imaginaries of sustainable futures. This is my first visit and research stay at SIFO: until April 30th I will continue our research on policy documents and business strategy documents, with a special focus on Oslo municipality. I will continue WP1’s role to negotiate how Humanities-based perspectives (esp. Media Studies and Philosophy) are important for IMAGINE.
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?
The Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory hosted Anticipation 2022 (anticipationconference.org), the 4th International Conference on Anticipation 16th-18th November 2022 at the Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, and a virtual conference on 4th November 2022. It set out to explore
how ideas of the future inform action in the present. With an emphasis on just futures, we seek contributions that explore equity and fairness and question who imagines futures and with which impacts. We invite researchers, scholars and practitioners engaging with anticipation and anticipatory practices to come together to deepen their understanding and create productive new connections.
IMAGINE was represented with two papers at the virtual conference.
Marie Hebrok, Nenad Pavel and James Lowley presented the paper “Speculative critical design as a means for interrogating imaginaries of sustainable futures” discussing the challenges of developing a master’s level course in speculative critical design approaches (SCD) at the Department of Product Design at Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet), in the context of the research project IMAGINE.
Dan Welch and Dan Lockton presented the paper “Towards a Conceptual Framework for Contested Imaginaries of Sustainability” presenting the conceptual foundations of IMAGINE, informing understandings of the performative—and counter-performative—nature of anticipatory thought in processes of contestation between cultural imaginaries of sustainable futures.
Wednesday 16th November, James Lowley led the student workshop “Provotypes and mediations” for the MA Product Design – Design in Complexity students at OsloMet.
The workshop is both a part of his PhD research and the MAPD5000 Technology and Design subject, a 6-week subject running till mid-December, that kicked off the week before. In the course, the students are tasked with making imaginaries of sustainability tangible to create reflection and discussion.
The goal of the workshop was to work on performative and mediative aspects of speculative design.
For the workshop, the students were asked to bring food items and based on this, to imagine future eating utensils.
Below are some of the outcomes of the workshop.
James is a PhD. Candidate at the Design, Culture and Sustainability Research Group at the Department of Product Design at the Faculty of Technology, Art and Design at OsloMet. His PhD project is called: Senses of Coherence: Future Perspectives on Design, Technology and Everyday Eating
The aim of the project is to bring together perspectives from Salutogenesis and Philosophy of Technology to explore Engagement in, through, and with Speculative Design. A Postphenomenological lens can position human-food relationships as instances of Technological Mediation; a transactional dynamic occurring through actions and experiences. In this theoretical landscape, designed artefacts are key determinants of sustainability outcomes by shaping ways of being and becoming in the present, and this has implications for the cultural practices they seek to support and replace, as well as the types and conditions of health they participate in creating.
You can see some of James’ previous work, called E.A.T (Edited Aesthetics of Taste), here (doga.no).