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Realist Ontology for Futures Studies

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All social phenomena, all social interaction, anything that exists in society, is temporal. Anticipation of futures is a necessary part of all social actions, and particularly so in the world of modern organisations. If social sciences are to be relevant they should also be able to say something about possible and likely futures. My paper articulates an ontology for futures studies and then, on that ontological basis, specifies the methodology of futures studies. Critical realist ontology explains why there are multiple possible futures. The actual is only a part of the real world, which also consists of non-actualised possibilities and unexercised powers of the already existing structures and mechanisms that are transfactually efficacious in open systems. Social sciences are also involved in envisaging better possible futures in terms of concrete utopias. However, building concrete utopias is not the only task of a futurologist. We are also interested in other possible and likely futures, and in determining the ways in which our actions and the actions of others contribute—sometimes via unintended effects and consequences—to making some of them real. Empirico-analytical models have a role to play, as do systematic modelling of geo-historical realities: embodied agency and actors; modes of action; rules and principles; resources, as competencies and facilities; practices; relational structures (of power); and self-organising social systems (also as collective actors). However, scenario-construction should also be seen as self-reflective exercise in cultural studies, moral philosophy and creative ability (in the same way that research and development or the arts are creative).


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