Putting the participative imagination at the service of positive futures

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It is easier to anticipate a dark and frightening future than to imagine hopeful alternatives. In this column, Jean-Éric Aubert and Simon Luck, respectively President of the 2100 Foundation and Scientific Director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Paris, discuss the need to draw inspiring paths towards a desirable future on the occasion of the Positive Future competition , the objective of which, as its name suggests, is to use imagination and participation to bring about mobilizing visions of the future.

The visions of an imminent collapse of our societies are not without foundation. They must be taken seriously. But they have tended, in recent years, to invade people's minds . And the occurrence of the Covid-19 pandemic has darkened them even more. Faced with the bleakest prospects, it is difficult to imagine a positive and desirable future .

Reflections on resilience and the theme of the “next world” popularized by the Covid-19 pandemic show, however, that there is a growing interest in projection into the future, and a need to anticipate the upheavals to come. (climate crisis and its correlates). 

Prospectivists seek to plot scenarios of future developments based on verified data and observable trends. They strive to offer credible, documented and realistic visions. As useful as they are, their work has three essential limitations when it comes to disseminating optimistic future thinking. First of all, most of them are mainly based on technology forecasts. Those which relate more to societal aspects too often tend to anticipate an amplification of the present problems, rather than to draw happy alternatives. Then, these works often struggle to spread au-delà des réseaux de spécialistes pour alimenter des imaginaires collectifs. Enfin, les scénarios de long terme courent le risque de ne pas être repris par les dirigeants politiques, pris dans des contraintes de court terme, et notamment les calendriers électoraux. Les travaux scientifiques anticipant l’avenir demeurent techniques, peu attrayants et peu partagés.

Fiction remains a particularly useful instrument for expressing positive utopian visions

Far from the prospectivist approach, pure imagination has always been a powerful means of producing visions, more or less fanciful, but very varied of the future. Science fiction stories are at the forefront of attempts to represent possible futures. Major works of the genre ( 1984 , Fahrenheit 451 , Le Cycle des robots , Blade Runner , Dune ) have fueled the imagination of several generations, fueling hopes but often also fears. 

SF is indeed a powerful stimulator of new ideas about the future , but it also shows limits to overcome our current blockages. Indeed, the traditional visions of SF as we can notably observe them in the films of the 1980s and 1990s tend to reproduce the existing world, with an admittedly more futuristic appearance, but without worrying about the essential questions for the functioning. societies described, such as that of their ecological sustainability. Worse, the narratives developed offer for the most part visions of dark and threatening futures ( Blade Runner ), even postapocalyptic ( Mad Max), in which the notion of collective tends to disappear in favor of individual survival and each for himself. The fact remains that fiction remains a particularly useful instrument for expressing positive utopian visions and asking ethical and political questions that our societies sorely need.

Faced with our difficulty in thinking of a future other than bleak and hopeless, and the pressing need to build realistic collective responses to the challenges of tomorrow, new creative formats need to be built, more distributed, inspired by the proliferation of positive actions. in the world of today. Far from excessive visions of bright futures such as those defended by the prophets of transhumanism, many initiatives carrying optimistic visions, more limited and localized, are indeed growing in scope, because of their realism and the values ​​that drive them - inclusiveness and ecology, in particular. They manifest themselves in commitments of a "capillary" nature of individuals, small groups, urban communities or others, transforming daily living conditions, inspiring each other through networks of exchange of practices and experiences. . Such approaches have been illustrated, for example, by the film Demain and are documented in more and more books, or highlighted by Usbek & Rica and other platforms. 

Foresight is the art of building credible stories about the future

To think about positive futures that have both a strength of attractiveness and a credibility that does not relegate them to utopia, an approach combining the potential of SF, the rigor of foresight, and the collective dimension and shared participatory production seems particularly desirable today. This is what the Positive Future competition proposes to achieve , which gives everyone the opportunity to imagine what a pleasant life can be like in a sustainable world, on the horizon of the century. For its first year, it focuses on a subject that concerns the greatest number: the city , in which nearly 60% of humans already live.

To spark this participatory imaginative effort, the Positive Future competition offers to create original works in the form of newspaper articles, short stories, comics and videos. The candidates are thus called upon to show creativity by mobilizing modest means, and by relying on their artistic, literary or other inclinations. Several winners will be awarded in each of the four categories, and a grand prize of 10,000 euros will be awarded to the best work in all categories. The works must be centered on life stories, with the city as a backdrop. The objective is to move away from questions of technology and infrastructure to leave a large place for everyday life (work, leisure, transport, love, politics, etc.). In order to stimulate the imagination of participants, but also to base their thinking on scientific knowledge or established prospective projections, the competition site offers a database of resources accessible online. It is not a question of embarking on pure fiction, but of anchoring oneself in reality, in order to combine the best of pure inspiration and methodical exploration.

Foresight is the art of building credible stories about the future, which take into account the knowledge one has at the time of practice. The challenge of Positive Future is to hybridize this rigorous approach with an artistic approach leaving a large place for creativity, in a participatory approach which makes it possible to generate adhesion and to multiply the possible visions of positive futures. Faced with our fears of the future, we hope that this “participatory imagination” device will bring out inspiring stories, easily shared, which will help to draw concrete paths towards a desirable world of tomorrow.

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