Norwegian version

How do we imagine a sustainable future?

crowd of people

No one knows what the future holds, but at all times we have imagined what it might look like. Now, researchers want to know more about how we imagine the future.

How do you think people will live in 30 years? How will we travel, eat, dress and work? What future do you fear? And what future are you willing to make an effort to achieve?

These are some of the questions explored in the research project IMAGINE, which is led by SIFO, OsloMet.

IMAGINE researchers invite everyone to enter their thoughts in the form of text, images or sound in the database on future imaginaries (minner.no).

The database has been developed by the Norwegian Folk Museum, who are also participating in the project. The goal is to get at least 100 stories about the future during the summer and autumn.

"How we imagine a sustainable future to be, affects the choices we make today. Just think of the climate and environmental policies that are being pursued, the steps that are being taken in the industry to meet sustainability goals, or what consumers are doing in their everyday lives. All these choices and strategies carry with them imaginaries about the future", says project manager Nina Heidenstrøm.

Utopias and dystopias

The future is a recurring theme in popular culture. We find it in literature, as in the dystopias of Margaret Atwood and George Orwell, in popular culture such as comics, science fiction films and computer games, and in art and advertising.

The researchers in IMAGINE will analyse the popular cultural imaginaries of the future, and also collect stories about the future from ordinary people's everyday lives.

"We can distinguish between utopias, which are about notions of living carefree lives, and dystopias, which look at the future gloomily", says Heidenstrøm.

"For example, the 1960s were characterized by future optimism. Inspired by new technology and the moon landing, people imagined both tubed food and flying cars".

A good example is the kitchen of the future. New technology was imagined making housework easier, but the commercials show that the kitchens of the future from the 60's reproduced traditional gender roles, eating habits and the practices of that time. The future of the 60's contained ashtrays on the kitchen counter and definitely no men in the kitchen.

Pandemic, war and imagining the future

Heidenstrøm is sure that the time we live in now, marked by pandemics, war and conflict, will affect how people imagine the future.

"Yes, I definitely think so. The pandemic has lasted so long and been overwhelming for the whole society. People have experienced intrusive infection control measures and been forced to postpone things that are important to them. At the same time, we can imagine that the pandemic has opened a horizon of thought we did not have two years ago", she says.

"Having experienced the pandemic, we are able to imagine a life with less travel, more flexible office solutions and reduced consumption levels".

"This will be part of the context we have to interpret our results into, and it will probably be a different material than we had expected".

Waste and holes in the ozone layer

Imaginaries about the future were also collected in 1998, just before the turn of the millennium, published in the book Thoughts on the future by Anne Mostue. How much does a society really change in 30 years?

"Our everyday life has changed a lot and little at the same time. The biggest changes are related to the enormous technological advances, with the Internet and social media", says Heidenstrøm.

The researchers in IMAGINE are particularly interested in looking at how we envisage a sustainable future, and how these perceptions affect the direction of climate policy.

"There is a difference in how we talk about climate now and 30 years ago. At that time, we were mostly concerned with nature; to pick up trash in nature, worry about holes in the ozone layer. Climate and the environment are now a part of our lives in a completely different way, and we understand that we will have to significantly reduce consumption levels over the next 30 years".

Technology optimists shape the future

We tend to think that new technology, such as carbon capture, electric cars, smart refrigerators or recycling plants, will solve climate and environmental problems.

"The technology optimism in these imaginaries shapes political strategies, financial investments, and lifestyle choices. But it is not accidental, and it could have been different".

"In IMAGINE, our aim is to take a step back and study what sort of ideas and thoughts our effort towards a sustainable future is based on", says Nina Heidenstrøm.

Facts

The project IMAGINE – Contested Futures of Sustainability is funded by the Research Council of Norway and runs from 2021-2024. The data collection uses, among other things, the database minner.no, developed by the Norwegian Folk Museum.

The Nordic Museum in Stockholm will conduct a similar data collection, and the IMAGINE project will compare the material from Norway and Sweden. Follow the project at Instagram @imaginesustainability (instagram.com) and the project blog (imagine.oslomet.no).

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Thougths on the future

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A research article from:
Consumption Research Norway (SIFO)
Published: 25/05/2022
Last updated: 25/05/2022
Text: Kjersti Lassen
Photo: Adobe Stock