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“Savoir c’est prévoir,” to know is to predict, declared Auguste Comte, the self-proclaimed priest of the Religion of Humanity. Despite these roots, sociology has abandoned this optimistic vision and speaks about the future reluctantly, by separating empirical knowledge about the past and present social world from futurology, which is based on speculation. As a result, sociology distrusts its own abilities to predict the future. In the name of value-free science, sociology has also withdrawn from designing the future social order, thus rejecting the inspiration of the great utopias. The pressing social need to anticipate the future is fulfilled by practices from beyond the bounds of sociology, or on its edges: from science fiction and post-apocalyptic fictions to futurology, technology assessment, trend analysis and modelling, to scenario planning and road mapping for particular organizations. The academic social sciences tend to disregard the applied methods of anticipating the future that have been developed at the request of governments, military agencies, and corporations rather than by academia.
However, in recent years, the theme of possible futures has entered the debate with new intensity: the division between science fiction and the near future falters. On the one hand, we witness billionaires’ plans to create Martian colonies and human-machine hybrids – is this for real, this time? – and on the other hand, we hear prophecies about the climate apocalypse and the advent of non-human time in the Anthropocene, an epoch when human actions alter the planet for hundreds of thousands of years. We may say after John Urry (What is the Future?, Cambridge 2016) that the times call for social science to enter the discussion about possible futures – hence, to reveal the political and performative dimension of the collective imagination of the future. Sociology might thus look for new inspiration in futurology or science fiction, but it also might enrich reflection on the social future with new approaches and solutions. Sociology might then also ask questions that were previously left unstated.
In this issue of Stan Rzeczy (State of Affairs) we invite reflections on the actual and desired role of the social sciences and humanities in discussions about possible futures. We look forward to reading historical studies, case analyses, synthetic depictions and propositions for new research programs.
We invite authors to submit abstracts concerning the following:
/// Authors are invited to send submissions containing their name, their affiliation, their email address, the title of their article, and an abstract of around 500 words to firstname.lastname@example.org by 30 November 2017. The editorial board will send notices of acceptance or rejection by 10 December.
/// The authors of the accepted abstracts will be asked to provide articles by 30 March 2018.
/// Please direct all questions to Dr. Agata Stasik (email@example.com), the editor of the issue.