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Colonising the future: The 'other' dimension of futures studies

Ziauddin Sardar
14 May 2018

From ­­Futures­­ 25 (3) 1993.

The evolution of futures studies since World War II has followed a well defined
pattern: at each phase of its development, futures studies has used the dominant
relationship between Western and non-Western cultures to define itself and
delineate its scope and areas of research. By an examination of abstract journals,
study guides and established works in the field, this article tries to show that
futures studies is increasingly becoming an instrument for the marginalization of
non-Western cultures from the future. Both wittingly and unwittingly, an elite of
white, mainly American, male scholars are being promoted-not just to the
exclusion of non-Western writers and thinkers on the future but also by almost
total exclusion of women-as ‘authorities’ whose work decides what is and what is
not important in futures studies.

In the conventional academic sense of the term, futures studies is not a fully fledged discipline. It is not a well defined subject like ‘physics’ or ‘economics’ or ‘theology’ that most universities across the globe would automatically offer at undergraduate and graduate levels. However, since its inception in the 196Os, it has evolved as a discrete intellectual and scholarly activity. While it is not yet a recognized discipline, futures studies has all the trappings of a discipline in the making: a set of recognized and established methodologies, a number of learned journals devoted to the field, a community of scholars what would technically be called ‘invisible colleges’-and a range of established authorities and ‘texts’, including ‘classics’ in the field. As such, futures studies is not so much an embryo but a well developed fetus waiting to enter the world of academic disciplines. It is simply a matter of time until futures studies acquires all the cachet of a respectable academic discipline. When that crucial transformation takes place, futures studies-like development studies, anthropology and orientalism-will become another academic instrument for the subjugation and marginalization of non-Western cultures.

History and domination

Masini and Gillwald’ have identified three ‘approaches’ in the evolution of futures studies. Between the end of World War II and the 196Os, futures studies was dominated by a ‘technical/analytical perspective’: it was basically an esoteric subdiscipline of other disciplines concerned largely with military research and goals. It was in the 1960s and early 1970s that the ‘personal/individual perspective’ of futures studies gained influence; here the work of individual writers and thinkers such as Toffler, de Jouvenel and Jungk became influential. The third approach, the ‘organizational/social perspective’ has asserted itself only recently and, in the opinion of Masini and Gillwald, will be the dominant approach of the future linking futures studies with ‘the decisions, values, and objectives of the commissioning organisations’. These three ‘distinctive’ approaches are distinctive only from the perspective of the West: they are remarkably, and historically, consistent in the way they approach the non-West. In each stage of its evolution, futures studies has used non-Western cultures and societies to define itself as well as to develop and grow.

During the period between World War II and the 196Os, the USA was accommodating to its newly acquired status of a global superpower. The source of this power was the military-industrial complex that sustained the US economy and its political and economic domination of the non-Western world. In such circumstances, it was only natural for futures studies to be an offshoot of military and intelligence research: its purpose was to identify possible future trouble spots, political and national movements within newly independent Third World states that could move towards socialism and the communist bloc, and map out strategies and programmes for ‘development’ of the Third World. This first technical/analytical phase of futures studies thus emerged from the need to keep the non-Western countries ideologically pure and in full agreement with Western political and economic interests.

What we now recognize as ‘futures studies’ was actually shaped during the mid-1960s. The personal/individual perspective of futures studies can be traced back to the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1965.2 Carson first articulated the popular concerns with the environment and the inherent dangers that a ‘runaway’, ‘reckless technology’ presented for human survival. Suddenly issues like pollution, depletion of natural resources, urban deterioration and population explosion became the most pressing problems faced by mankind. Amongst the more technocratically oriented segments of Western society, the environmental awareness led to the belief that new
worlds had to be discovered and colonized-perhaps the Moon, perhaps Mars. But other groups had different views and expectations of the future. Such developments as the Berkeley protest movement, sexual liberation, dope and the emergence of the pop generation, Black assertion and feminism produced various individual responses to the environmental crisis. For quite some time, these alternative movements comfortably mingled with and exploited the precepts of environmentalism.

By the mid-1970s, much of the grassroot activism had disappeared and most groups seems to be closing ranks towards a saner and calmer attitudes towards planetary consciousness and global selfrenewal. At the same time, one could see a few success stories that environmental activism had produced: the introduction of environmental legislation that was aimed at curbing urban pollution, promoting industrial and occupational safety, and promoting alternative energy sources, the campaign for lead-free petrol, and, .of course, the reemergence of the peace movement as a major political force-all these were positive achievements for environmental activists. The publication in the 1970s of the celebrated reports to the Club of Rome-first Limits to Growth (1972),3 then Mankind at Turning Point
(1974)4 followed by numerous othersspelled the end of free thinking and crystal gazing by most environmentalist groups and marked the beginning of serious futures studies.

A major contributory factor in the emergence of serious futures studies was the brief moment of the long overdue selfassertion enjoyed by the Arab countries in the 1970s. The rise of OPEC and the accompanied scare of energy shortages in the West, combined with the aggressive anti-Western stance of the Iranian revolution, was instrumental in giving futures studies appropriate corporate and governmental backing. Almost overnight, almost every multinational corporation acquired a futuristic research cell and the US government created a special national energy department, the Office of Technology Assessment (which was also a result of lobbying by environmental pressure groups), and the Western powers introduced the annual ritual of meeting for an economic summit. At a conceptual level, then, the origins of futures studies lie in a crisis that is both created by and of the West-a crisis related to environmental politics and economics of growth. It has been further enhanced and shaped by a perceived threat from the non-West, as well as an idolization-l elaborate this point
below-of the non-Western cultures. During the 1980s futures studies became synonymous, much to the displeasure of genuine environmentalists, with Western interests, and rapidly intensified into structures concerned largely with the inevitable emergence of a new breed of technology ostensibly concerned with solving all problems of domination, control and human relationships-information and communication technologies, biotechnology, new forms of agriculture and so on. Hence, the emergence of elaborate methodologies of technological forecasting and other paraphernalia such as dynamic modelling, applications of general systems theory, computer simulations and Delphi method. The whole purpose of the exercise is to develop a future landscape where the result of research in high technology could be employed for the evolution of better strategies to ensure that the status quo is maintained: Western control and domination of non-Western cultures continues unabated. In short, the future is well and truly colonized. This is the underlying, albeit unstated, theme of journals like The Futurist and such works as Marvin Cetron’s and Thomas O’Toole’s Encounters with the Future (1983).5

We can call this technocratic, business-dominated (in the dual sense where the future is of serious concern to big business and the future itself is a business for those who wheel and deal in itconsider how many US futurists are simply conventional businessmen who trade in a commodity called the ‘future’) dimension of futures studies ‘the Columbus affliction’. Just as Columbus, driven by a crisis within Europe, sought new worlds to exploit and colonize, so does a large segment of futures studies seek hitherto unimagined and new arenas to conquer. But not all of futures studies-and certainly not all futurists-is concerned with a Westernized, technological vision of the future. For every Herman Kahn with his gee-whiz technological optimism there is an E. F. Schumacher with ‘alternative technology’, for every Buckminster Fuller with his geodesics there is a Fritjof Capra looking for ‘new paradigms’, every hard-headed rationalist like Glen T. Seaborg extolling the virtue of science is balanced by a gentle mystic like Theodore Roszak arguing for a more spiritual, mystical future. The Columbus affliction in future studies is offset by the ‘More syndrome’.

Sir Thomas More sought the solutions to Europe’s ill by drawing on an idealized picture of non-European people that Columbus discovered in America. His Utopia, the literary classic that produced the first idealization of ‘the native’ and non-Western cultures, was made possible by Vespucci’s description of the New World. It was written in 1516, just 24 years after Columbus discovered the New World, and was born out of the need of European humanism to rescue itself from its moral purgatory and project itself in, and displace, the original inhabitants of Eden. For Sir Thomas, and the utopians who followed him, the New World was the ready-made utopia of the Renaissance. He provides us with the first example of a pattern which was to become a central feature of Western thought. The reality of a known land where people lived according to different worldviews, different models of knowing and being, were used as the location for the projection of ideas which were entirely European in their origin and concern. The ‘More syndrome’ in futures studies continues that tradition; like the classical utopians, many contemporary futurists appropriate the ideas, data and experiences of other societies and cultures and project them as visions of Western, secularized future.

The point is that those futurist thinkers who use non-Western philosophies and modes of knowing as the basis for constructing alternative visions of the future, and work for that vision, operate strictly in the European tradition of humanism-a tradition that is totally enveloped in the secularist worldview. The end-product of their thought is often a grotesque parody of non-Western thought, philosophy and tradition. As such, even the ‘new spirituality’ and ‘values’ that the futurists suffering from the ‘More syndrome’ seek have to conform to the dictates of secularism. Hence, it is always the secular forms of Eastern mysticism-like Zen Buddhism-with which these futurists find sympathy. The vast corpus of non-secular non-Western traditions are almost totally ignored. There is also the added irony of a product of Western humanism borrowing ‘traditional thought’ from a non-Western culture, and presenting the repackaged deal back to the natives. Consider E. F. Schumacher.6 Whatever his standing in the West, as a mystic in the Eastern tradition, Schumacher is decidedly an infant. Third World countries with a long tradition of Buddhism do not need Schumacher to tell them about Buddhist economics and the benefits of traditional thought-they have much greater minds, and a long historical tradition, to draw from.

The absurdities that result from the attempts of various futurists to shape a ‘new paradigm’ on the basis of Eastern thought are well illustrated by Claude Alvares’s examination’ of one of the most respected futurists in Sir Thomas’s mold: Fritjof Capra. In The Turning Point,8 Capra asserts that the descriptions of reality by modern theoretical physics and Indian metaphysics have a great deal in common. The most appropriate descriptions of the cosmology of the subatomic world are those given by the Indian mystics Nagarjuna and Aurobindo. Quite apart from the fact that the ideas of Aurobindo stand discredited within the tradition of Indian metaphysics, Alvares points out that the values of the two systems could not be further apart: they ‘stand as two fuming bulls in the ring’. When Capra claims that mystical intuition is like the fourth dimensional reality of Einsteinian space-time, he is actually reducing Indian metaphysics to the confines of science. How does Capra know, asks Alvares, that the experiences of a mystics are limited to four dimensions? Anyway, a dimension is an analytical tool: such mental constructs have no meaning for mystics! And what happens when science changes its perception of reality as it is bound to do? Indian metaphysics, together with the dance of Shiva, once again ends up looking antiquated and ridiculous.

Capra wants the reductionist approach of science to be replaced by a systems review of nature which he claims is closer to the organic attitude of most eastern traditions towards nature and reality. Alvares finds Capra’s assertion to be plainly nonsensical:

A systems or a holistic approach is still an
approach of the mind, the later an imperfect
instrument that can never functionally match
the capacities of intuition, mysticism or nature.
In non-Western cultures, in fact, the mind is
barred effectively and rightly from pretending
to be the primary epistemological medium: it is
considered second class, a status that well
befits its instrumental nature. Unless this is
recognised, fundamental errors are going to be
made. A mystic distrusts reason, recoils from
discrete phenomena, resents separation
Both reductionism and holism are the construction
of science. And thus when one claims
that the systems approach is a better scientific
approach, and that it is also very similar to the
organic view of life of the eastern philosophers,
one is still exercising reductionism, reducing
mysticism now to an understanding articulated
by an analysing mind. Whereas the so-called
mystical, tribal or metaphysical qualities of
eastern traditions have one feature in
common: they are a-scientific or, better still,

By lifting Indian metaphysics out of its context and applying it to modern science-in the good intention of developing new paradigm thinking Capra is doing exactly what Sir Thomas tried to do with the Amerindians: he is trying to rescue Western thought by breathing humane Indian metaphysics, experiences and data into it. He is unaware of the fact that he has degraded and dehumanized Indian thought in the process. Alvares sees the arguments in The Turning Point as an attempt to improve science, an exercise in foraging in other traditions to overcome the metaphysical bleakness of modern science. ‘This is science in a fresh phase of colonisation: whenever science is caught in a dead end, it looks around for new terrain. It usually empowers other epistemologies by incorporating them’, he warns.

I have not singled out Fritjof Capra for a special treatment but simply used his thought to illustrate the colonizing tendency of futures studies. Much of the same can be said for other noted futurists who suffer from the More Syndrome: Schumacher, Roszak, Reich, Wilber and a whole array of futurists who promote ‘new age’ philosophies.

Thus, even when futures studies is allegedly borrowing and incorporating non-Western thought in its framework, it is rooted firmly in Western philosophical ideas. All the future alternatives are actually worked out within this single, dominating, philosophical outlook. Other cultures are there, at best, for decorative purposes, or worse, to be used to prop up a system of thought and action that is actually responsible for the present dire predicament of mankind.

Power and territory

The colonizing tendency of futures studies is most evident in the current third phase of its growth. The ‘organizational/social perspective’ of futures studies is also the domain where it is to be shaped as a discipline with recognizable boundaries and apparatus-established authorities, designated areas of research and thought, learned and professional organizations, bibliographic tools and study guides. To appreciate the scope and depth of colonization that is currently underway in futures studies, it is important to understand how intellectual spaces are created, governed and defended in Western scholarship. Futures studies is following a well established pattern of disciplinary evolution-a pattern that is designed to make reputations, produce an elite apparatchik who control the discipline and decide who is and who is not important in, and what is and what is not important for the field.

ln contemporary Western scholarship, reputations are made by a simple statistical game: how many other scholars cite you in their writings. Co-citation analysis is based on the fact that certain individual documents have a history of being used together in the preparation of new ones. The evidence is that they are cited together-co-cited-by whoever is engaged in the new writing. The number of times a document, and hence its author, it cited can be counted. For a given pair of documents, a couple of instances of co-citation may not mean much; but a pair with many co-citations is perceived to have a strong subject relationship and to be important for the development of the field. High co citation of oeuvres-that is body of writings by the same authors-just as of individual documents, implies a perceived subject relationship between them. Co-cited author analysis is simply the analysis of highly cocited pairs of oeuvres, rather than pairs of individual documents. With on-line citation indexes, such as those provided by the Institute of Scientific Information, it is possible to learn quickly the number of times authors’ oeuvres have been co-cited by subsequent writers. Densely interconnected oeuvres are said to suggest a field of research or scholarship; patterns of interconnections, varying from high to low, suggest specialties within the field.

So, citations do both: they establish reputations and delineate the areas of scholarship. Scholars in a particular field operate what is known in information science as ‘invisible colleges’, citing each other extensively, controlling at least one or two learned journals, jealously guarding their intellectual territory. The territory is further fortified by writing literature reviews, guides to literature and producing anthologies that both enhance the reputations of the members of the group and tell the newcomers to the field who ought to be read and cited. 1 intend to illustrate how this game is unwittingly being played in futures studies by examining a number of important reference tools and study guides.

The most important bibliographic tools in futures studies are Future Survey and its annual accumulation, Future Survey Annual, both edited by Michael Marien.‘O These are highly admirable and worthy publications-but they also maintain the ethnocentric and colonizing tendencies of the intellectual space they delineate and serve. indexing and abstracting services are not just scholarly endeavours, they are also ideological tools that yield tremendous power and influence in shaping the boundaries of a discipline by deciding which journals ought to be indexed, which authors and articles should be abstracted, who should be projected and which issues should be given a wider or narrower coverage. Future Survey performs the task by concentrating almost solely on the USA and then projecting its contents as a global phenomenon; note the title is ‘Future’ survey, not a survey of American futurists with odd Europeans thrown in as also ran. The Future Survey Annual 1992 gives the following criteria for selection of material: ‘the literature cited here has been selected by scanning the output of more than 150 book publishers, a score of research institutes, several dozen general-interest magazines, leading newspapers, and more than 250 scholarly and professional journals. Criteria for selection include breadth, originality, authoritativeness, and importance to the public interest’.” Coverage is confined to English, and the editor admits that most of it is ‘written by Americans, published in the US, and largely concerned with US problems and interests’. All this, in no way, implies American superiority but is only a product of realistic limits.

But what are the real results of these ‘realistic limits’? What it means in actual terms is that non-Western contributions to futures studies, as well as non-Western issues and concerns, are totally absent from the most important bibliographical tool of the intellectual space called ‘futures studies’. But that is not all: the ethnocentrically blinkered contents of Future Survey are repeated elsewhere and, over time, the issues, concerns and the writers abstracted by the journal are seen to be the issues, concerns and writers of futures studies. In other words, by ignoring the vast reservoir of non-Western material in English-for practical and financial reasons-Future Survey is unwittingly delineating an ethnocentric boundary for the discipline.

Once the ethnocentric parameters are mapped out for an intellectual space, they are continuously maintained and controlled by a self-acquired momentum. Thus the ethnocentric nature of Future Survey finds a resounding echo in Unesco Future Scan,12 a new and important reference tool for future studies The first issue of Scan (June 1992) contains an authoritative bibliographical section which provides four bibliographies: ‘World futures’, ‘Environment and society’, ‘Peace, culture, democracy and governance’ and ‘Regions and countries’. All four sections contain only one entry by a non-Western writer on Thailand; this despite the fact that in any one of the fields of ‘peace’, ‘culture’, ‘environment’ there is enough material of ‘breadth, originality, authoritativeness, and importance to the public interest’ emanating from India alone to fill several volumes of Scan. The second section of the journal is entitled ‘Focus on education’; it contains a lengthy analysis of recent thinking on futures education in the US and an international overview of futures education-the select bibliography to the later article manages to come up with only a single non-Western (Indian) citation. Unlike Future Survey, Unesco Future Scan is conspicuously designed as a global reference tool: any one from a developing country reading the first issue of Unesco Future Scan could be forgiven for thinking that futures studies is solely a US concern, with marginal European support. It has nothing to do with the Third World; and no one anywhere in the Third World has written anything on the future worthy of being mentioned in a bibliographical reference work. When this is combined with the weighty volumes of Future Survey Annuals covering over two decades of work in futures studies we get the complete picture: the world begins and ends with the USA and, as such, the future is really a Western concern and a Western opportunity. Non-Western cultures are simply so much cultural baggage.

This assertion gets further support from anthologies and study guides that are designed to be used at undergraduate and graduate level: these are embryonic forms of textbooks. The Study of the Futurte13 by Edward Cornish, the President of the Washington-based World Future Society, is a good, early example of the genre. The book describes itself as ‘an introduction to the Art and Science of Understanding and Shaping Tomorrow’s World. Cornish distinguishes himself by showing no awareness of the actual existence of non-Western cultures let alone the fact they they may have some stake in shaping the future. In the final chapter of the book, three pages are devoted to the ‘Collective wisdom of mankind’ (which on the evidence of the number of pages devoted to the ‘wisdom’ of white, male futurists, is evidently quite insignificant!). But of what does this collective wisdom consist? Cornish does not tell us; he does suggest that a World Future Network of millions of people around the globe should be set up. Presumably, to make inputs into the West so that it can revive itself and overcome its pathologies. However, we are told, in no uncertain terms, who are the most authoritative and original futurists and given a taste of their oeuvre: Cornish selects” masters that the student of the future is required to read and digest. Since they are all leaping from the pages of Future Survey, it is not surprising that they are all white, and, with one exception, male: Bertrand de Jouvenel, Glenn T. Seaborg, Robert Jungk, Arthur C. Clark, Willis Harman, Daniel Bell, Isaac Asimov, John McHale, Herman Kahn and Alvin Toffler, the female master, rather surprisingly since most of us would not think of her as a futurist, is Margaret Mead. Finally, just to drive the point home, an annotated bibliography of 119 items at the end of the book spells out who occupies the intellectual space called futures studies: there are only a couple of token women and no non-Western writers. All over the Third World, in almost all disciplines, US textbooks are being used as standard teaching resources. No doubt, The Study of the Future and so many similar futures ‘textbooks’ will follow suit.

The conspicuous absence of non- Western subject matters and Third World thinkers and writers is now being reflected in the formulation of undergraduate curriculum for futures studies. David Hicks’s Exploring Alternative Futures: A Teacher’s Interim Guide14 and Richard A. Slaughter’s Futures Concepts and Powerful Ideas15 present the latest efforts in developing classroom material for futures studies. Hicks’s guide was prepared for the Global Futures Project of the Institute of Education, University of London. It offers an informative and entertaining tour of the futures studies terrain; but the global dimension is strictly limited to Western culture. Slaughter’s efforts are intellectually far superior and much more carefully thought out than anything else done in this area of futures studies. It is divided into two parts. Part one takes us throughthe basic concepts of futures studies. ‘Powerful ideas’ appear in part two and include such topics as ‘cultural editing’, change, ‘re-negotiating meanings’, limits to growth etc. On the surface we have a strongly culturally aware study guide to
futures studies. But careful reading reveals little evidence of the existence of non-Western cultures; even the section entitled ‘Maps of knowledge‘ contains no non-Western perceptions of knowledge. But non-Western cultures creep in in a section entitled Towards a wisdom culture’. A ‘wisdom culture’, we are told, has the following aspects:

  • vivid understanding of common humanity;
  • move beyond rules based on race, gender etc;
  • balanced use of rationality and intuition;
  • higher motivations re-shape economic life;
  • methods and institutions to foster growth of consciousness;
  • education as a discipline in transcendence;
  • technology as an aid to transcendence, not substitute;
  • local differences set in context of universals;
  • all people and religions seen as one in spirit.

There is no indication that these ideas are actually borrowed from non-Western cultures; nor are we given any examples of dead or living wisdom cultures; the whole thing is presented as something that the West needs to appropriate to produce a more desirable, healthy future. Neither Hicks nor Slaughter provide a reference to any non-Western writer.

Both Hicks and Slaughter could argue that they have based their study guides on easily accessible and available material. But this is exactly the point: availability is a function of visibility, Future Survey and anthologies like those of Cornish determine what becomes visible; curriculum developers follow suite. Indeed, if Hicks had looked at an average class in an average school in the UK he would have got a totally different picture of what constitutes the globe. Had Slaughter looked out of the window of his office at the University of Melbourne he would have seen a wisdom culture struggling to survive: the Australian aborigines. Do they not have a role to play in developing future consciousness in the next generation of Australians? Do they not have a role in the future of Australia?

The unconscious goals underlying the formulation of futures studies is to shape the future of all cultures in the images and desires of the West. However, in some cases this is not so much an unconscious but an overt craving. The study by Joseph F. Coates and Jennifer Jarratt of What Futurists Believe16 presents classical colonial thought-at its most expansionist and self-glorified mode-in action: the only difference is that it is being enacted towards the end of 20th century. The study is a product of the concerns of two organizations-multinational corporations to which the study is addressed, and the sponsors of the book, the World Future Society. The only mention of the non-West occurs in the introduction where the authors ask two questions, by way of example, that the study is designed to answer: ‘Is Hong Kong going to be different in the next century?, and ‘What are the possibilities for mass marketing in the Soviet Union over the next 20 years?. We are now firmly back in Columbus territory: the only relevance of non-Western cultures is as markets for the West.

Anyhow, who are the futurists? Coates and Jarratt are asking the question in the universal sense: who, amongst those who claim to be futurists, are actually worth describing as futurists? And what are their beliefs? This is how the authors set about to discover the true masters of the intellectual space:

We recruited ten business subscribers to the
project. At the first meeting with their representatives,
we offered them a list of 125 futurists
for possible inclusion. The most important
criterion for selection was that the futurists
have something to say about the future relevant
to the corporation. It was somewhat
important that the futurists have prominence
and recognition within the futurists community.
Their visibility to the business clientele was
of less significance, since many of the most
substantial futurists have low name recognition
in the corporate world. Another consideration
was that they represent a diversity of points of

The ‘diversity’ of the selection is evident from the fact that the Universal Masters were identified as 17 white, male futurists, ‘overwhelmingly American’, with an average age of 58. The non-Westerns are excluded because ‘they are less wellknown to the US futurists’. (If you are a less well known white American male you can get into the system; if you are a less well known non-white non-Western male, forget it.) But what about the women? The authors tell us that they ‘were unable to identify any in the US equivalent in stature, scope, and breath of interest to those futurists already selected’. Thus what the study establishes is the simple and universal fact that the intellectual space called futures studies is the exclusive domain of a selected group of white, male Americans.

Each of the selected futurists (Roy Amara, Robert Ayres, Daniel Bell, Kenneth Boulding, Arthur C. Clark, Peter Drucker, Victor C. Ferkiss, Barry Hughes, Alexander King, Richard D. Lamm, Michael Marien, Dennis Meadows, James Ogilvy, Gerard K. O’Neill, John Pierce, Peter Schwartz and Robert Theobald) gets a chapter to himself which explores his thought and oeuvre. At the end of each chapter there is a diagram illustrating the intellectual ‘forces influencing the futurist thinking’: not one of them admits to having any influence from a non-Western source; not even Arthur C. Clark who has made his home in Sri Lanka, presumably because he has some respect for its culture! A thoughtful section tells us ‘What 17 Futurists Have, In General, Ignored’: the list includes ‘the sociology of the future’, ‘women’, ‘blacks, minorities, immigrants, and cultural conflicts’, ‘nations and nation groups’ and ‘religion’: in other worlds, anything that could possibly involve an acknowledgment of the existence of entities other than white, male, Anglo-Saxons!

In many respects, futures studies is evolving as a discipline in the well trodden path of development studies. In that field, Western ‘authorities’ were first created by citation analysis, literature surveys and study guides and the boundaries of the discipline were pegged to the research interests of these ‘authorities’. The textbooks produced by these authorities became the essential teaching instruments in the Third World; while the masters of the discipline went to the Third World as consultants and authors of national development plans. It is only a matter of time until the ‘experts’ identified by Coates and Jarratt, and Cornish et al make their appearance in the Third World as consultants to set up university departments and long-range future plans. Already the signs are ominous. Just as the ‘national development plans’ of so many developing countries reflect little concern or respect for indigenous culture and local needs, so many of the national futures plan reflect the concerns and interests of Western futurists rather than hopes and aspiration of the local population. The priorities of such future studies as Malaysia’s Vision 2020, China 2000, Mexico 2000 have been set not by local populations but by the US Global 2000 report.18

Futures studies, then, is set to become another academic and intellectual instrument for the colonization of the non-West. Orientalism colonized the history of non-Western cultures.19 Anthropology colonized the cultures of non-Western societies.20 Development colonized the present of the Third World. Futures studies is becoming the tool for the colonization of the last frontier-the non-Western future itself.21

Notes and references

  1. E. B. Masini and K. Cillwald, ‘On future studies and their social context with particular focus on West Germany’, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 38, 1990, pages 187-199.
  2. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1965).
  3. D. Meadows et al, Limits to Growth (New York, Potomac Associates, 1972).
  4. Mesarovic and Pestel, Mankind at the Turning Point (London, Hutchinson, 1974).
  5. M. Cetron and T. OTooie, Encounters With the future (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1982).
  6. E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful (London, Blond and Brines, 1973).
  7. C. Alvares, ‘New -paradigm thinking: we have been here before’, in Z. Sardar. The Revenge of Athena: Science, Exploitationand the Third World (London, Mansell, 1988).
  8. F. Capra, The Turning Point (London, Flamingo, 1982).
  9. Alvares, op cit, reference 7, page 223.
  10. M. Marien, future Survey(monthly), Washington, DC, World Future Society; M. Marien, Future Survey Annual (Washington, DC, World Future Society, annually).
  11. Future Survey Annual 1992, page v.
  12. UNESCO, Unesco Future Scan (biannual), Paris.
  13. Edward Cornish, The Study of the Future (Washington, DC, World Future Society, 1977).
  14. D. Hicks, Exploring Alternative Futures: A Teacher’s interim Guide (London, University of London, Institute of Education, 1991).
  15. R. A. Slaughter, Futures Concepts and Powerful Ideas (Kew, Victoria, Futures Study Centre, 1991).
  16. J. F. Coates and J. Jarratt, What Futurist Believe (Maryland, Lomond, 1989).
  17. Ibid, page 6.
  18. Global 2000 (Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1982).
  19. E. Said, Orientalism (London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978).
  20. T. Asad Anthropology and the Colonial Encounter (London, Ithaca Press, 1973); M. W. Davies, Knowing One Another: Shaping An Islamic Anthropology (London, Mansell, 1987); A. Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: the Loss and Recovery of the Self Under Colonialism (Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1983).
  21. See also Z. Sardar, Information and the Muslim World: A Strategy for the Twenty-first Century (London, Mansell, 1988); Z. Sardar and M. W. Davies, Distorted Imagination: Lessons from the Rushdie Affair (London, Crey Seal, 1990).