Bruce Lloyd

The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies. Foundations (372 pp); Organisations, Practices, Products (419 pp) Directions and Outlooks (396 pp) Edited by Richard A. Slaughter, Futures Study Centre/DDM Media, AUS$250.00 (3 volumes).

A massive attempt to reflect, and summarise, current thinking on a wide range of critical futures studies questions and issues. Just what is futures studies? How can the future be studied before it happens? How far is the future predictable? What are the practical applications of futures studies? Do futurists constitute a profession?

These three volumes contain some 50 articles by a number of the leading world authorities on their respective subject areas, which address these-and other questions. The approach is subdivided into a number of sections: Origins; Futures Concepts and Metaphors; The Futures Literature and The Foundations of Futures Studies (Vol. 1); Futures Organisations; Futures Methods and Tools; Images and Imaging Processes; Social Innovations and Futures (Vol. 2); New Directions in Futures Thinking; The Outlook for the New Millennium; The Long View (Vol. 3). Full of stimulating ideas both about techniques which help to reduce uncertainty, and ideas about future trends themselves. Approximately 50 pages of acronyms and the glossary of futures terminology are repeated in each volume.

It’s apparently the intention of the editor/publisher to produce additional volumes. So a further theme worth including could be a consideration of the relationship between futures studies and strategy. Equally, if this material can be made available electronically it would likely gain wider use.

Overall this is an invaluable introduction to the subject which is likely to be an indispensable aid to students, academics, planners and researchers; both professionals and those with a genuine general interest in the future, which really ought to include all of us, especially as we move into the new millennium: “the great learning point in the history of the world”, as one commentator has put it. You may not agree with all the comments included but the net result of their close study should be a level of thinking that is based on a deeper knowledge of the possibilities.

In general, an impressive project, and one that is long overdue.

From: Long-Range Planning, 1997.

At the time of writing Bruce Lloyd lectured at South Bank University, London, UK



Yvonne Curtis

The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies

Series Editor Richard A Slaughter

Volume 1 Foundations; Volume 2 Organisations Practices Products; Volume 3 Directions and Outlooks. ISBN 0 9586654 0 0 (set). Futures Study Centre, Kew, VIC., Australia. 1996.

Reviewed by Yvonne Curtis, Editor, Futures Times, The Futures Trust, Wellington, New Zealand

I will not pretend that I have read all three volumes of this series. They are not that kind of resource. They are something that you dip into on frequent occasions to enjoy an essay at a time, and also for reference when tackling other projects. To me they are unique for at least three reasons. First, as Future Studies comes of age as an academic discipline, this is one of the first publications alongside, for example, Wendell Bell’s 2 volume Foundations of Futures Studies (reviewed Future Times 1997/4), which will form a basic knowledge base for the discipline.

Second, unlike Wendall Bell’s volumes, which give a very sound grounding filtered through his experience, these volumes contain essays by a wide variety of practising futurists of the Twentieth Century. This gives the reader an insight into the diversity of futurists, future thinking techniques and possible futures of the Twentieth Century in a very practical way. This could be rather bewildering to someone new to the topic, but if the resource is used skilfully I think this multiplicity of voices is a valuble expression of the diversity of our possible futures. It also gives a very clear picture of the interaction of futures thinking with all other disciplines.

Third, as a New Zealander, and a fellow Southern Hemisphere inhabitant, it is exciting to find that an Australian has had the courage to undertake this grand enterprise when, because of history and sheer number of people, most of the futures literature and futurists are based in the Northern Hemisphere. I find the Southern Pacific voice hard to hear in many of the futures suggested from the Northern Hemisphere perspective.

In each of the volumes the editor has chosen the authors and the topics to best present that particular facet of the story of modern future studies. Some authors feature more than once. I was going to name some of the authors but I think would be unfair as all make an equally valuable contribution. The title of each volume gives a very good indication of topics addressed in the volume. For example Volume 1 called Foundations contains three essays on the origins of Twentieth Century Futures Thinking, three on Futures Concepts and Metaphors, three on Futures Literature and four on the Foundations of Future Studies. All the essays have extensive notes and bibliographies listed at the end of the volume.

All the volumes include an extensive glossary of Futures Terms compiled by the editor. Hence the series is a must for a beginner in any field of study. These volumes are an essential part of any resource base for groups involved in futures studies and long term strategic planning.



Marcus Bussey

Reading the Future: A Review of The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies

Slaughter, Richard A., (ed) The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies (Melbourne; Futures Study Centre, 1996) Vol 1 pp 372; Vol 2 pp 419; Vol 3 pp 396. Aud $180.

To be in possession of a copy of the three volume set The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies is, despite Italo Calvino’s assertion that the invention of the printing press has severely curtailed the human ability to remember things, a passport into a vibrant and dynamic intellectual community. In this work we meet many of the people at the heart of this nascent discipline, hearing their voices as if in a conversation. Richard Slaughter, the series editor and chief architect, has brokered a truly marvellous gathering of luminaries from many points of the ideological compass. As I entered into the spirit of the work I felt its story unfold with a purpose and rightness that you would not expect of a text representing forty-nine thinkers. I was perhaps aided in my task by coming to it with few expectations. But still, a story it does tell of a discipline struggling to find itself in a world which values cohesion and definition over pluralism and dissonance.

In Slaughter’s hands we are given not a great novel but a story in the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights, the Decameron and The Canterbury Tales. It is pluralist and rich with a range of voices all offering tales within the grander narrative of Futures Studies. This form allows for a multiplicity of identities to emerge from the text. On the surface the work is what it claims to be, a resource which brings together the variety of elements that are coming together under the banner of Futures Studies. Taken at this superficial level there is always room to mutter that it is incomplete, that this or that theme is under or over represented. In the past I’ve felt some discomfort due to the over representation of white, western, middle class men within the arena of academic discourse. Yet this work acknowledges both the deficiencies and the latent potentialities of Futures Studies today. This is refreshing after the somewhat hegemonic tone of earlier efforts at synthesis in which voices of dissent were rare.

Seen as a sampler The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies has much to recommend it. Not least of all is the fact that it is incomplete. Slaughter is already planning another three volumes! These will be looking at what futurists think, organisational practice and dissenting futures. Yet putting aside these three volumes we find a work that tells a coherent story of a discipline in search of its self, and we hear in the often divergent tales the struggle futurists are engaged in as they work towards self definition. A slight change of perspective from sample to chronicle provides yet more insight into this work. Viewed in this way The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies can be read as a chronicle of the emergence of an ethic based on responsible relationship. Many of the authors in the Knowledge Base acknowledge the deficiencies of Futures Studies but have faith in the integrity of its underlying value structure. Slaughter gives prominence to this ethical chorus by placing the bulk of the ethical discourse strategically in the third volume. It is no accident I feel that this volume is the richest representative of divergence, representing as it does the largest collection of non-western, non-male writers.

Reading the Knowledge Base as a chronicle is important because it helps us see Futures as a living history, what Yehezkel Dror calls ‘thinking-in-history’ and Sohail Inayatullah refers to a ‘maps of time’. We find in this history an emergent ethic which is vibrantly alive with conflicting poses and opportunities, and, thank heavens, still a great deal of open-endedness.

If we shift lenses again The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies can be read as an ambassador to the Other, offering to the dispossessed and silenced a share in the future. This can be a cynical reading, we in the west are giving back what we stole and what we know will soon be seized from us by the weight of historical necessity, but I think it has the potential for, and indeed the intention of, transcending such a peevish interpretation. I say this even though I agree with Ashis Nandy’s argument that the critique of a western hegemony takes place in the language of western academia. So, once again we find the central culture replicating itself, like a mutant gene, in the minds of those seeking to free themselves from it. Yet this is one of the contradictions that helps to enliven Futures Studies. The bulk of the discipline does have its origin in a western humanist discourse which does need to move, and is moving, towards a Neo-Humanist position which flattens ‘centre-periphery distinctions’. I believe that it is from this tension that new culture will emerge. And this culture will be representative of both the old centre and the new.

Furthermore, as Futures Studies moves out from the centre it is becoming and will become, as Tony Stevenson suggests in one of his scenarios for the future of the World Futures Study Federation, more and more representative of non-centre voices. Seen in this light the ambassadorial role of futures is critical to bridging the gap between privilege and poverty, hope and despair. It is a hand extended to the Other in good faith; albeit there is considerable naivety in the gesture because as Zia Sardar forcefully reminds us, whether we like it or not, the future is non-western.

It is in yet another frame that the richest reading of The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies can occur. From this perspective Slaughter is to be found working at his most ambitious for he is trying to orchestrate synthesis at the meta level, where the whole becomes more than the some of its parts. In this reading Futures Studies is no longer a simple discipline but an attempt at cultural engineering, where the building blocks of self are recognised to be spiritual and always have the strongest voice. They represent the centre, the dominant culture and criticise it though they might they are fundamentally bound to play by its rules. The emphasis, for example, on visioning and imagining positive futures comes out of this space. It is essentially quietistic. Being rooted in a Platonic western spirituality that, like all of Platonic thought, is submissive to authority and supportive of the status quo. It’s not that I don’t feel there is a place for visioning sessions in futures work, it is just that I don’t see a nice visioning session turning around an economic rationalist who is set upon extending the productivity of his or her company or department. Fortunately I feel The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies transcends this shallow reading. It is in its other identities that the importance and vitality of the work rests.

If we take the work as a well-thought-out sampler seeking to plot and chart the course of an idea we will be better rewarded. Slaughter provides a broad conceptual framework that orders and organises the contributions. In volume one we enter the story via a number of tales that outline the historical emergence and lineage of Futures Studies. We then proceed to sections describing futures concepts, futures literature and futures epistemologies and methods. Volume two looks at areas that reflect the application of futures ideas and concepts. This section tells us something about futures in action. Volume three looks ahead at futures tomorrow and conceptual rather than material, and the power to achieve a present worthy of future generations lies in how we construct meaning and action today. It is at this meta level, what Tony Judge calls the noetic space, that the real action is occurring. The ferment of ideas contained in The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies spans the disciplines allowing equal validity to all the varied faces of Futures Studies. Thus the tools of forecasting, cultural analysis, critical reflection and transcendence operate to generate a meta story consistent with Slaughter’s own transpersonal vision for the future. This vision is founded on his concept of an inter-generational ethic that promotes a commitment to a sustainable society with humans as stewards, a recognition that the ‘future is deeply implicated in the present’, an embracing of science as a reflection of an ‘interconnected reality’ in which the sacred is as vital as the visceral perception of existence.

Slaughter has gone a long way in The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies towards demonstrating that ‘hard-core’ Futures Studies can be anchored in high level scholarship while at the same time promoting creative and visionary interaction with both long and short term futures. Furthermore, by allowing in spiritual and heart oriented discourse we are given the space within which future developments are not foreclosed but expanded. Thus the potential for renewal is ever present. The ‘Other’ rather than being excluded becomes an integral part of the story, thus anchoring the whole enterprise in a value structure that transcends our human limitations.



Lane Jennings

The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies – A Global Overview of Futures Studies

Authoritative reference work covers past, present, and future of futures studies.

With some 40 authors discussing complex issues and ideas, a breezy writing style is not to be expected. But Richard Slaughter’s Knowledge Base of Futures Studies offers an authoritative reference source for educated readers with serious concerns about the future. And on this level, the venture succeeds very well. The first volume of The Knowledge Base reviews the origins and history of futures studies (with special emphasis on the twentieth century). Several writers discuss how different concepts and metaphors can influence what people hope for and expect from the future. Other contributors critique influential books and articles on futures topics, and suggest from varying perspectives what working futurists can hope to achieve.

The second volume profiles selected organisations that typify futures studies in different parts of the world and also covers tools and techniques employed in futures research, including global modelling, future workshops, visioning, etc. The third volume deals with new ways of looking at the future that reflect ongoing changes in society (eg. the feminist movement) and recent developments in science (chaos theory, etc.). The volume concludes with predictions from various perspectives for the twenty-first century and beyond. Each volume is separately indexed and provides source notes for every article. All three volumes offer the same handy glossary of futures terms and list of frequently used acronyms. Large author photos and brief biographies help give each contributor a face and a history as well as a voice.

One of The Knowledge Base’s most interesting features is its showcasing of non-Western futures thinking. Because the industrially developed countries of North America and Europe were culturally dominant during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, when modern futures studies emerged, many futurists have long assumed that Western concepts of time, progress, democracy, personal ambition, etc., would be essential elements of any desirable global future. But the rising economic and cultural influence of nations with Buddhist, Islamic, Confucian, and other strong traditions makes continued dominance of modern Western values one of today’s least likely futures. In fact, many of the world’s most pressing social and environmental concerns may defy solution inside a wholly Western frame of reference. Political scientist Lester Milbrath notes that the values upheld as “good” in Western political discourse include economic growth, consumption, efficiency, productivity, jobs, competitiveness, risk-taking, power, and winning. “Societies pursuing these goals cannot avoid, depleting their resources, degrading nature, . . . and upsetting biospheric systems,” Milbrath warns.

The Knowledge Base project developed over five years and involved many individuals and organisations. The results are described by the publisher as “a vital resource for all those drawing upon, working in, or intending to work in, any of the emerging futures professions” and “particularly useful as a foundation for a new generation of secondary and tertiary courses.” These are fair claims. Each volume in the set could be used alone as the core text for a college- or graduate-school course on the future. But even the three volumes together seem designed to be supplemented by lectures, class discussion, outside readings, and individual projects. In short, The Knowledge Base is a foundation that individual users can expand and build upon, not a finished product to consume as it stands.

It will be interesting to see what will be built on this foundation once these volumes are adopted as texts at colleges and universities. I can envision teachers and students developing multimedia “illustration sets,” hypertext links to some or all of the works cited in the articles, and global on-line seminars where students from every institution where the volumes are used meet to compare notes and expand classroom discussions.

The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies deserves an honoured place in educational libraries, as well as on the shelves of business firms and private citizens concerned enough to seek the thoughts of outstanding futurists from around the world.

From: The Futurist, November-December 1996, World Future Society, MD., USA.

At the time of writing Lane Jennings was research director of The Futurist and author of Virtual Futures: Wordviews of Alternative Tomorrows.