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8th August 2010 | Draft

Towards a History of World Futures Studies

focusing on collective initiatives

-- / --

Methodological criteria


The focus here is explicitly on collective initiatives involving a degree of worldwide participation. Historical development of futures studies by individuals following 1945 is for example a focus of the study of Wendell Bell (Foundations of Future Studies: human science for a new era, 1997). The concern here is not with the substance of futures studies and its development, as notably documented by Richard Slaughter (The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, 2005).

The exercise follows from an effort to document the reports of the Club of Rome and the bodies which had in some way been associated with its history (Club of Rome Reports and Bifurcations: a 40-year overview, 2009). As noted there, the approach recognizes the tendency of different collective initiatives to lay claim to a degree of priority or special merit in exploring the future. It is unclear that any history will do justice to the associated dynamics and their problematic consequences for the world.

Methodological criteria

In an accompanying table, a tentative effort is made to juxtapose bodies (as collective initiatives) concerned fairly specifically with world futures in relation to the people engaged in them in a continuing or substantive role. Since this mapping could be variously extended, in pursuit of a more succinct presentation an arbitrary decision was therefore made to exclude various individuals and initiatives in quest of a succinct presentation.

Criteria used, questionable though they may be, are:

Accepting that their members may understand themselves to have a distinct approach to global futures, international collective initiatives notably excluded were those relating specifically to:

Exceptions were occasionally made, however questionable or self-serving:


Individual engagement with "futures": The above approach to highlighting individuals associated with institutions suggests a distinction between:

It is this last category which may offer a collective environment for a more applied or activist mode of futures, necessarily implying a degree of risk in pursuit of an agenda and in ensuring the resources to that end.

Of special interest are those unusual individuals who operate in the interstices between initiatives and those engaged in them -- thereby ensuring a degree of cross-connectivity. Examples in relation to international futures initiatives might include: Heiner Benking.

Methodological concerns: Additional factors meriting attention might include:

Comment from Wendell Bell: At any given time there is a canon -- key theories, concepts, methods, major defining works, etc. -- which both guide members of a field and which collectivities dedicated to the field importantly define and sanctify. Thus, it appears sound to me to juxtapose 'bodies' (collective initiatives) that deal with world futures to the people engaged in them. This might leave out isolated individuals who work alone, even though they contribute to the joint effort usually by building on the work of others or by others building on their work. F.L. Polak in his two-volume The Image of the Future for example, might be an example. Such people may have no personal links to each other or have no membership in the same -- or any -- futures groups, yet they are participating in joint discourse of a sort with others.


Wendell Bell:

Richard N. Cooper and Richard Layard. What the Future Holds: insights from social science. MIT Press, 2003

Kjell Dahle. On Alternative Ways of Studying the Future: international institutions, an annotated bibliography and a Norwegian case. 1991

Christopher Burr Jones and Guillermina Baena Paz (Comp.). Futures: Past, Present, and Future: snapshots of a short retrospective (history) on futures studies by members of the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF). 2008 [text]

Robert Jungk and Johan Galtung (Eds). Mankind 2000. Allen and Unwin, 1969

George Thomas Kurian and Graham T. T. Molitor (Eds.). Encyclopedia of the Future. MacMillan, 1995

Harold A. Linstone. Twenty Years of TF&SC. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 36, 1989, 1-2, pp. 1-13.

Eleonora Barbieri Masini. Reflections on World Futures Studies Federation. Futures, 2005 [text]

Peter Moll:

Richard Slaughter:

Bart van Steenbergen. The First Fifteen Years: a personal view of the early history of the WFSF (1967-1982). Futures, 2005 [text]

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