Using STS to study Futures Studies

Image result for scenario

The field of futures and foresight science (FFS) has problems that science and technology studies (STS) can help to understand. Based on recent publications, insights from STS have the potential to shed new light on seemingly intractable problems that inevitably come with the scientific study of the future. Questions like: What is a scenario?

Consider this quote from a prominent scholar in the field:

Even the term scenario itself is not a very precisely defined concept (…); it means different things to different people and, accordingly, is labeled and applied in widely divergent ways and the term elicits “all kinds of vague and loosely defined concepts” (…). The consequence according to Khakee (1991) is that “few techniques in futures studies have given rise to so much confusion as scenarios” (p. 52). This confusion may be explained by the fact that unlike other long-range forecasting methods there appears to be no solid theoretically based foundation underpinning scenario techniques. As a number of writers have noted, there is in fact “a paucity of systematic research” (…), leading Chermack (2002) to conclude that “the status of theory development in the area of scenario planning is dismal” (…).

A new paper by Spaniol and Rowland (2018), free online nowsearched for and assessed over 400 definitions of “scenario.” They organized their results into a flowchart (below). 

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* Process for classifying a phenomena as a scenario in the Intuitive Logics tradition.

The result is a practically useful process to classify phenomena as a scenario. The chart can be used by practitioners to do a gut-check on their work. Practitioners can also use the chart with their clients to make sure that scenarios are what they want to plan with. The chart could be used in the classroom with undergraduates or Ph.D. students, depending upon the assignment (more on that later). 

This is not Spaniol and Rowland‘s first work on the topic. They’ve written on the increased intellectual traffic between FFS and STS, and written papers on methodological issues in FFS and the multiplicitous nature of “the future” in FFS scholarship.

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