Recent Work

Stumbling towards the light: four decades of a life in futures (2021)

The Virtual Curated Special Issue (VCSI) for which this paper was produced was several years in the making. Its origins lie in conversations held during a World Futures Studies Federation in Norway during mid-2017. Initially it was intended to be guest edited but this proved too difficult for busy people. Thus, in late 2019 Ted Fuller, the editor of Futures, very kindly took on this task. Some 20 people were invited to contribute, of which 13 produced publishable work. Six key topics covering different aspects of my work were defined. A selection of earlier publications from each topic was provided to authors addressing that topic and are also made newly available via this issue. Some people chose to address the given themes and related material while others used them as a springboard to pursue other matters in the light of their own work, experience and views. Overall, the collection provides a collective and reliable overview of some of the central themes and concerns of my career over this time. (Please note that other papers from this project will feature together on the About page on this site in due course.) Read more…

Two New Futurepod Episodes (2021)

I’ve been wondering why so-called ‘advanced’ societies find it so difficult to change course in order to avoid disastrous futures. Here’s a sample of the ‘skewed narratives’ that seem, thus far, to have prevented us from making the necessary changes. Hear the interview with Peter Hayward:

Richard outlines some of the ways that the IT revolution has fallen far short of what we have a right to expect. The critique quickly leads to a review of possible solutions and ways forward as discussed in his recently-published Open Access book Deleting Dystopia: Re-asserting human priorities in the Age of Surveillance Capitalism. Hear the interview with Peter Hayward:

Farewell Alternative Futures? (2020)

The notion of ‘alternative futures’ played a dominant role in the early development of futures studies and applied foresight (FSAF). But the optimism it once signified, the sense of unqualified agency, no longer rings true – or at least not as convincingly. The paper explores some of the grounds of this shift and considers a few of the implications. limitations of space dictate that the paper concentrates on four of many possible factors, each of which arguably contribute to the shift outlined above.

  • Global system change and the rise of the Anthropocene.
  • The rise of denialism and ‘unreality industries’ in inhibiting more constructive responses.
  • The role of forgotten, hidden or repressed aspects of the long ‘human story.’
  • Qualitative development and further evolution of methods within FSAF.

The paper is intended as a ‘positive provocation’ to a vital and continuing debate about purposes and directions for FS as we confront new dimensions of uncertainty and hazard. Particular attention to the final point above is strongly recommended. Read more…

Confronting a High-Tech Nightmare. The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (2020)

During recent decades the ‘myth of progress’ lost credibility and it’s not hard to see why. Many expectations of human improvement that were supposed to flow from new knowledge, advances in human organisation and successive waves of technical innovation have proved hollow or ambiguous at best. That’s not to say that there have been no such improvements. Yet taking these as evidence of overall human improvement requires a kind of mental gymnastics undertaken only by the courageous or the uninformed. Politicians are prominent among those who seem wedded to the latter. What cannot be overlooked for much longer is the way that humanity has manoeuvred itself into a fateful collision with the planetary systems upon which it depends entirely for sustenance and renewal. One need not dig very far into the current sense of frustration and malaise afflicting political systems to acknowledge that there can only be one ‘winner’ in humanity’s self-chosen ‘collision course’ with the planet. It’s not us (Higgs, 2014). Read more…

Futures Studies as a Quest for Meaning (2019)

This paper reflects on four decades of activity in the futures arena. Overall, it tracks a process of deepening insight and growing appreciation for the richness and complexity of life in all its myriad forms. Coupled with this is what I have come to regard as our inescapable responsibility for being active in ways that protect and nurture our natural and cultural heritage, both of which are under sustained and ever deepening threat. To do so we need to recover a clear perception of how extreme and ‘abnormal’ our present situation vis-à-vis Planet Earth really is. This entails removing the veils from our eyes, setting aside convenient fictions and gaining the courage to face reality. This view can also be framed as ‘finding ways forward in impossible times.’ It is a kind of ‘sub-text’ for the kind of Futures Studies I have pursued. Part one provides an overview of early influences and experiences. Part two summarises some core learnings. Part three provides examples of the kinds of ‘depth appreciation’ that I believe prefigure long-term solutions to the global emergency. Read more…

Image: Peter Bruegel’s The Netherlandish Proverbs, 1559 (Gemaldergalerie, Berlin)

Reassessing the IT Revolution Part 1: Literature Review and Key Issues (2018)

A growing volume of reports in mainstream media makes it clear that the IT revolution is bringing with it a series of challenges that societies are ill prepared to face. While surprisingly large numbers of people unthinkingly renounce such of their privacy as remains for trifles, the idealistic hopes of early pioneers and freedom-loving ‘netizens’ remain largely unfulfilled. Benign notions such as ‘cyber democracy’ and the ‘information superhighway’ have all but disappeared. In place of these optimistic hopes and projections there’s a growing sense of uncertainty, disillusion and, in some cases, fear. One reason is that for many the digital realm is an elusive and obscure ‘nowhere place’ whose shadowy operations lie beyond the boundaries of human perception. Another is that a few vast corporations, and those with privileged access to their services, appear to have almost unlimited influence both for good and for ill. What is striking, however, is that in order to capture attention and encourage wide immediate usage it’s the presumed utility of emerging technologies that’s highlighted rather than the radical ambiguity that attends their longer-term use. The implications of this gulf or fracture need to be more thoroughly understood if positive measures to reduce or eliminate them are to be undertaken. Read more…

Reassessing the IT Revolution Part 2: Case Studies and Implications (2018)

This second article focuses on two specific case studies – the Internet of Things (IoT) and the rise of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs). The former is already being portrayed as a kind of unquestioned default assumption. The latter are being widely promoted to replace standard vehicles driven directly by humans on conventional roads. The article then outlines salient features of the two most dominant Internet giants, Facebook and Google, with two goals in mind. First, to identify ways to improve our understanding their interior human and cultural aspects and second, to use the insights gained to explore what should be done and by whom – an issue addressed in the third and final paper. Taken together this and the previous paper help define a draft agenda that can be critiqued, modified and put to wider use. The overarching goal is not merely to help moderate the present impacts of IT but to evolve strategies that better serve more constructive, humanly valuable ends. Read more…

Reassessing the IT Revolution Part 3: Framing Solutions (2018)

The first section picks up the central theme of the series by focusing on ill-considered or compulsive innovation. It questions fatalistic attitudes and argues that, far from being inevitable, concerns such as artificial intelligence (AI) or Chinese surveillance practices need to be brought more fully into the open and subjected to more sustained critical enquiry. The rest of the paper takes up the theme of recovery and renewal. Some critical ‘blind spots’ are briefly outlined (a distinct lack of interest in global challenges; a pervasive tendency to under-value ‘the social’) and reframed in more positive terms. The notion of ‘constitutive human interests’ is raised. It’s here that the implications of the project become ever more obvious since many of the concerns raised can be viewed as positive opportunities for productive innovation and adaptive change. A variety of innovations for better managing IT-related innovations and re-purposing the Internet are subsequently discussed. The overall conclusions of the paper, and indeed, of the whole project, are framed by a growing imperative to ‘disrupt the disruptors’ by investing in socially democratic actions and processes across the board. Finally, a new look at values and moral development arguably has significant implications for the issues discussed throughout. Read more…

In-Depth Review of Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2017)

Yuval Harari, Harvil Secker, London, 2015, 428 pp

When a new work of note is published early reviews appear in quality publications, followed by a longer ‘tail’ of reports elsewhere. Before long many such works fade into obscurity, becoming accessible mainly to students and scholars. In this case an early review favourably compared Homo Deus to the works of Lewis Mumford. Which caught my attention. Four-and-a-half decades ago as young teacher in Bermuda I was perplexed as to why this tiny sub-tropical paradise would allow itself to be transformed into a teeming, stressful mid-ocean metropolis. How could this be explained? Mumford’s panoramic view of human history, his grasp of how we became human in the first place and his rigorous dissection of oppressive power structures that he called ‘megamachines’ provided food for thought and a variety of starting points for enquiry (Mumford, 1971). I wanted to find out for myself if the book lived up to this exacting comparison. So I read a review copy during an intense week before Christmas, leaving the following weeks to mull over implications. The more I worked my way into the text, the more concerned I became…Read more…

How ‘Development’ Promotes Redundant Visions: The Case of the Queens Wharf Casino Project, Brisbane (2016)

‘Development’ is a term freighted with divergent meanings. To many it has positive connotations and is often linked with other contested terms such as ‘growth’ and ‘prosperity.’ But there is a dark side to development – at least as it is being practiced in and around Brisbane where it seems to denote ruthless ‘urban infill’ and the endless replication of poorly-conceived and badly constructed high rise buildings. Very, very few of these projects are being built with an eye to the future or the challenges and changes that it has in store. In other words much of what is currently called ‘development’ is based on redundant thinking, questionable values and what I argue in this paper are redundant visions. The Queen’s Wharf project now under way is perhaps one of the most perverse examples of this unfortunate trend. Whatever Brisbane ‘needs’ it is arguably NOT another casino placed in the heart of the government district and surrounded by one of the most tasteless and ill-conceived mega-developments ever undertaken. So in writing this article I tried to dig under the surface of the glossy advertising campaign to try and find out what is really going on. (Journal of Futures Studies 21, 1, 2016 pp 77-84.) (Read more…)

Academic Publishing in Transition: the Case of Foresight (2016)

Jim Dator’s introduction to the new series of World Future Review under his editorship, he made it clear that the focus of the journal would now be ‘on futures studies itself as an academic discipline and as a practical, consulting activity’ (Dator, 2015). A concern for professional standards in futures studies and applied foresight is has been around for a while and arguably represents one of the main ways by which the profession can advance and prosper (Slaughter, 1999). The reverse is obviously also the case. Either way, journals play a major part in this process since they perform a number of critically vital roles that include: reviewing professional activities, reporting on new and significant work, assisting in the dissemination of ideas, providing a platform for individual opinions and so on. Yet remarkably little attention has been paid to the question of standards within the journals themselves. Meanwhile, academic publishing is passing through a profound upheaval due to the continuing fallout from the ‘digital revolution.’

The paper begins by considering the declared aims and objectives of Foresight. There follows an outline of the method used to carry out the content analysis over several volumes and relate this back to the original study. The rest of the paper reviews the content and themes that emerged through four categories: social interests, methods, focal domains and capacity building. Mention is also made of special issues and ‘outstanding works.’ Finally, suggestions are put forward for further consideration and action. (World Future Review, 2016, 8, 2, 63-74.) (Read more…)

Beyond the Global Emergency: Integral Futures and the Search for Clarity (2015)

This paper argues that external, technology-led views of futures tend to be one-sided and overlook significant interior aspects of reality. Since everything is socially constructed it follows that no technology stands alone. They arise from social processes that are, in many cases, centuries old. Human beings also enact their own individual and shared interior worlds. An Integral perspective and the four-quadrant model gives equal attention to interior / exterior and individual / collective phenomena. It also helps us to embrace and respect the contributions of many different disciplines. Part one uses these distinctions to raise questions about the views of prominent Silicon Valley figures and their particular framing of the ‘Digital revolution’. Part two suggests how Integral methods help us to ‘see with fresh eyes’ and open up new and renewed strategies or ‘proto-solutions’ to pressing global issues.  (World Future Review, 2015, 7, 2-3, 239-252.) (Read more…)

The Denial of Limits and Interior Aspects of Descent (2014)

The primary purposes of this paper are as follows. Part one seeks to re-examine the role of denialism in the context of proposals advanced through the much-abused Limits to Growth (LtG) project. The wide-ranging consequences look increasingly like a ‘global trap’ for which humanity is manifestly unprepared. The paper suggests, however, that that moving from ‘collapse’ narratives toward those focused on ‘descent’ opens out new conceptual and practical spaces. Part two uses three sets of criteria (domains of reality, worldviews and values) to characterise some of the interior human and social aspects of the ‘denial machine.’ It uses these criteria to address some vital, but currently under-appreciated ‘interior’ aspects of descent. Finally it considers examples of promising work and concludes by advancing suggestions about ways forward in the light of the ‘global emergency.’  (Foresight 16, 6, 2014, 527-549) (Read more…)

Defending the Future: Introductory Overview of a Special Issue of On the Horizon on Responses to The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History (2013)

A primary objective in writing The Biggest Wake-Up Call in History (BWCH) (Slaughter, 2010) was to bring as much clarity as possible to some of the complex, multi-layered and profoundly challenging issues that face our world today. A second objective was to establish if there were, in fact, viable ways forward beyond what I saw as an increasingly compromised present, pathways that lead towards more humanly compelling futures. These twin purposes largely dictated how the book was framed and how it evolved. Part one focused on the nature of ‘the problem.’ Part two considered a range of possible solutions, some of which were at the conceptual stage while others were already being trialled in one form or another. I wanted to leave the reader with a sense that, while the outlook might initially appear very bleak, there were real and substantive grounds for informed hope and effective action. (On the Horizon, 21,3, 2013, 118-173.) (Read more…)