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. Our project looks specifically at how we imagine sustainable futures.
How we lived in the past and how we live today affect our ways of imagining a sustainable future. Some imaginaries become key cultural stories that guide and legitimize what we do, while others are not given much attention and influence nothing. That makes it crucial to bring current imaginaries about our sustainable future entail to light. How do we imagine eating, dressing, and moving sustainably in the future?
To identify imaginaries, we engage with those who design, produce, and sell food, clothing, and means of transport, those who consume these products and services, and those who regulate production and consumption. We look for imaginaries in strategic documents, media, and popular culture, and ask people to share their imaginaries with us.
Imaginaries often take the form of abstract images and ideas that are difficult to convey. To allow for the transference of images and ideas between people, we use design and art. We will represent imaginaries in tangible ways by making an experiential exhibition that will enable people to engage in imaginaries through their senses – by seeing, hearing, and touching. This makes abstract images and ideas more explicit and accessible for critical discussion and reflection.
Just as the imaginaries of the past influenced our present, current dominant imaginaries about sustainability will influence future technological, cultural, and societal development. IMAGINE helps us critically engage with these important ideas. Why are some dominant and others not? Who has the power over them – the power to shape how we imagine the future?
IMAGINE is an interdisciplinary research project (humanities, social sciences, design and arts) that will study cultural imaginaries of sustainability. Since some imaginaries become key stories that guide and legitimize actions taken by different societal actors, while others remain without influence, they are of great importance for the creation of possible futures. Considering the current global urgency of transitioning towards more sustainable societies, this influence makes them important to investigate. IMAGINE looks specifically at imaginaries tied to three currently unsustainable areas of consumption:food, clothes and mobility. To identify dominant imaginaries we will involve actors in sharing imagined futures and utopias, and look at how they exist within strategic documents, media and popular culture. IMAGINE aims to go beyond mere identification, towards interpretation (discourse analysis), representation (design and art works), and confrontation (workshops, exhibition, and conference). Innovative dissemination methods add visual, tactile, and sonic experiences to conventional forms of digital and verbal communication. Through an experiential exhibition we will make imaginaries of sustainability tangible through the senses - making abstract images and ideas more accessible for critical discussion, and confronting actors with the imaginaries of their own and other spheres. The main anticipation behind IMAGINE is that dominant imaginaries of sustainability will have great impact on the future. Thus, it is imperative to bring these imaginaries to light in a cultural perspective to show how imaginaries are reproductive - reproducing existing ways of thinking, contingent on various knowledge regimes, and representing power struggles that determine how we act in the present. Finally, IMAGINE aims to contribute to co-create novel (productive) imaginaries, new shared understandings between actors, and the push towards sustainable futures.