Laura Forlano is Associate Professor of Design at the Institute of Design (ID) and Affiliated Faculty in the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology, where she is Director of the Critical Futures Lab (email@example.com)
This blog post relates to the Global Discourse article Laura Forlano: Foreword
We cannot rationalize our way out of a crisis – or, to be more exact, the multiple crises that we face. We cannot audit our way towards a better future. We cannot merely criticize the failures of the past or those of the moment. We must have an artist’s vision, we must cultivate an activist’s ability to reimagine and we must create a collective dream that allows us to enact and experience alternatives to the current conditions. In short, we must embrace a speculative praxis.
2020 revealed, in stark terms, the realities of the multiple interrelated crises of our time – from our own health to that of the climate and planet, from economic devastation to related extreme inequality and from White supremacy, domestic terrorism and the breakdown of democracy to the corresponding police violence and anti-Blackness that seeps through all of our institutions no matter their proclamations.
Many reports will be written, working groups will be commissioned and data sets will be analyzed. But they are not enough to avert the next disaster in a world that is spinning out of control. We cannot predict and control the world as we simultaneously destroy it. Perhaps this has been sufficient for the last hundred or, even, several hundred years but it is no longer possible.
If anything, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 as well as the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. is strong evidence for the power of storytelling. Stories mobilize and motivate in ways that logical arguments and facts cannot. Both rational facts and fictional narratives are social processes. They allow people to find meaning, identity and community in ways that are essential for ongoing human life.
Fact and fiction are not oppositional binaries but rather they exist on a continuum of modes of reasoning about and imagining the realities of the world. Donna Haraway’s figure of the cyborg illustrates the complicated coexistence of fact and fiction. In my Foreword to the Special Issue on ‘Staying with Speculation’, I explain the ways in which facts, techno-optimism and speculative imagination are necessary co-conspirators in the making of future visions. These include, for example, corporate visions, legal documents and prototypes as well as demonstrations and performances that can be experienced by the public.
Social scientists and humanists – especially, sociologists, anthropologists and histories of science & technology — are fond of asking the question ‘How might it be otherwise?’ But, they tend to avoid making prescriptive recommendations or speculative proposals that ask ‘What if’. Yet, in recent years, the impulse to embrace speculation as a method (as well as other creative and artistic approaches) in the social sciences and humanities has grown. This form of speculative praxis, which I define as a way of ‘making sense of and making futures’, integrates both critical and creative capabilities. This approach is politically useful for thinking about one’s own research and data differently; communicating one’s research to wider audiences; engaging publics with complex issues; and, even, simulating and experiencing alternative futures.
According to Arundhati Roy, the pandemic presents a ‘rupture‘ between the past and the future, writing: ‘Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next’. If, as Roy has suggested, that ‘The pandemic is a portal’ what exactly is on the other side? And, how will we know when we have arrived? In order to live in a different future, we must first be able to imagine it.