Five years with futures

Five years with futures is a personal project, or quest perhaps, to explore what happens if I start taking my own interests and desires seriously in my professional life. In this specific case this means devoting my work time entirely to futures studies. For the coming five years, all projects, all teaching, all writing I do must have a clear relevance to futures studies. This project is an experiment. I’m genuinly curious to see what will happen. Will it cause friction? And if so, what type of friction, in what situations, with what people? I have a suspicion (or hypothesis, as we sometimes call it in academia) that the main source of friction will be me.

The background to this project is to be found in two challenges. The first challenge has to do with working in academia, and more precisely how my research position is funded and what career possibilities there are. Using systems thinking lingo (love it!), this can framed as a challenge belonging not to me but to my environment, i.e. it is something that impacts me but which I cannot influence. I am employed as a researcher, a position which, at least where I am, does not come with any base funding. This means that I need to attract external funding in order to continue doing research – at least if I want to have a say in what projects and courses I engage in. Previously I have gladely joined more or less any project and research proposal suggested to me, not thinking too much about if the project at hand is something that I really want to work on or not, or how it fits with the rest of my research portfolio. The only two things I have been thinking about have been 1) to what extent the project or proposal would contribute to paying my worktime (i.e. how many % of a FTE can I allocate to this project), and 2) to what extent the project or proposal would strenghten my CV so that I one day can secure a position where I do not have to constantly worry about funding.

The second challenge has to do with me as a person. This is the internal part of the system, which impacts me and which I can influence (at least according to what my therapist and more or less any book I’ve read on the subject say). After almost a year in therapy, and after experiencing a burnout earlier this year, I have gradually come to understand and accept how fundamentally dependent on performance I have been – and still am. A previous therapist called this a “performance-oriented self-esteem” (not to be confused with self-confidence, which I have in abundance).

It does not take a rocket scientist to see that a performance-promoting system like academia, and a performance-oriented person like myself, makes a very effective cocktail. Such productive. Much wow. Then came the burnout.

And then came something else. Something new. After a couple of months of recovering, and with good help from my therapist and from my partner, family and friends, I could finally start seeing the costs of playing along, and the impact of these on myself and everyone I care for. And I decided that something had to be done.

Five years with futures is that something. Through deciding to solely focus on futures studies the coming five years I hope to learn new things about myself and the world of academia I inhabit. More so, I seek to change things. In a way the space this blog provides can be thought of as a speculation in its own right. Through formulating a what if-question for my self (What if my primary role in work life was as a futures studies scholar?), and engaging with and representing this as if this was the case, I engage in the sort of utopian practice that Ruth Levitas call ‘interstitial’:

prefigurative or interstitial utopias, places where a better life can be built even in the face of the dominance of [hegemonic ideologies]

Levitas 2013

Even though the Five years of futures project is primarly for my own sake, I hope that this space can also serve as a source of inspiration to others that are struggling with similar situations, or that are just interested in learning more about and engaging in dialogues about speculations and futures.

Levitas, Ruth, 2013, Utopia as method: the imaginary reconstitution of society. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan