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«Introduction to the special issue on Teaching Futures Studies at the University Level, American Behavioral Scientist, November 1998. Jim Dator Since ...»

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Thirty years of teaching futures studies

Introduction to the special issue on "Teaching Futures Studies at the University Level,"

American Behavioral Scientist, November 1998.

Jim Dator

Since futures studies has been a serious academic and consulting activity for more than

thirty years, worldwide, why have YOU never heard of it--or at least know so little about

it? Dator briefly outlines his own teaching and consulting experiences in futures studies since 1967, and then introduces each of the twenty six authors whose essays follow.

Amazing isn't it?

Here is a collection of essays written by 27 people from 10 different countries describing the theories and methods underlying the courses they teach in futures studies at the university level. And yet the chances are very good that, if you are a typical subscriber to or regular reader of American Behavioral Scientist, you have never taken a course in futures studies; never met a person who taught it at the university level; teach or study on a campus where futures studies is not offered; and probably associate "futures studies" (if the term means anything to you at all) either with astrology and charlatans or with Alvin Toffler, John Naisbitt, or Faith Popcorn (or, alternatively, with the late Herman Kahn and the late Julian Simon vs. the Meadows and the Limits to Growth / Beyond the Limits ) (Toffler, 1970; Toffler 1980; Naisbitt, 1984; Popcorn, 1992; Kahn and Weiner, 1967;

Kahn and Simon, 1984; Simon, 1996; Meadows et al, 1972; Meadows et al., 1992) Of these, only Simons and the Meadows were university professors, and they were more nearly arguing for or against one particular future than primarily concerned with the study of the future, or beliefs about the future, per se.

Given the readership of and contributors to this journal, however, it is also likely that "futures studies" might conjure up images of computer-based mathematical models (such as those of the econometricians or those who would provide disaster early warnings) which attempt or pretend to predict the future with such precision that policy can be confidentially guided by the prediction.

Your own reading about the future is, in all probability, restricted to Brave New World and 1984 (if you are of a certain age-cohort), and/or to varieties of science fiction and comic books (Flash Gordon among a host of others). Your most fundamental images of the future are almost certainly shaped primarily by films and videos you have seen in theaters or on television sets: The Twilight Zone, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, It, On the Beach, 2001-A Space Odyssey, the Planet of the Apes series, Star Trek, Star Wars, Back to the Future, Blade Runner, Brazil, Total Recall, Robocop, the Terminator series and the various Mad Max flixs (perhaps Buck Rogers--if you are old enough--more recently Twelve Monkeys, Gattaca, Strange Days, Johnny Mnemonic), or by visits to DisneyLand or the Seattle World's Fair (or the 1939-40 New York World's Fair, if--can I say it again?--you are old enough).

Some few of you (though many among the population at large) have images of the future shaped by Armageddon and other visions derived from the Book Of Revelations--perhaps as depicted in the film The Late Great Planet Earth.

Statistically speaking, you are unaware of the existence of the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF), the World Future Society (WFS), or Futuribles International, all of which were created in the mid 1960s, whose members unfailingly read Future Survey (a monthly survey--compiled yearly into an indispensable annual--of books, articles, and reports, in English, about or important for the future, superbly edited by Michael Marien) and routinely publish in such journals as Futures, Futures Research Quarterly, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Futuribles, Futuribili, Futura, Papers de Prospectiva, and the Manoa Journal of Fried and Half Fried Ideas (...about the future) (journals also of whose existence you are unaware--you might have seen The Futurist, published by the World Future Society, in a library), and which have held world futures conferences (in the case of the World Futures Studies Federation) in Oslo, Norway (1967), Kyoto, Japan (1970), Bucharest, Romania (1972), Rome, Italy (1973), Berlin, West Germany (1975), Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia (1976), Warsaw, Poland (1977), Cairo, Egypt (1978), Stockholm, Sweden (1982), San Jose, Costa Rica (1984), Honolulu, Hawaii (1986), Beijing, China (1988), Budapest, Hungary (1990), Barcelona, Spain (1991), Turku, Finland (1993), Nairobi, Kenya (1995), and Brisbane, Australia (1997) with the next world conference planned for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1999 (See: WFSF Conference Publications) During the 1970s and 80s--until the forceful disintegration of Yugoslavia--WFSF offered futures courses every spring through the InterUniversity Centre at Dubrovnik, attracting university students from East and West Europe, as well as North America, Africa, and Asia. With the cooperation of the Center Catala de Prospectiva, the Unesco Centre of Catalunya, the Ministry of Education of Andorra, and the Muncipality of Encamp, the WFSF has also more recently offered futures courses in Andorra. Unesco has been a major supporter of many of the activities of the WFSF and has sponsored Asia-Pacific Futures Courses in Fiji, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines since 1992.

Presidents of the WFSF have been such highly-regarded scholars as Bertrand de Jouvenel (France), Johan Galtung (Norway), Mahdi Elmandjra (Morocco), Eleonora Masini (Italy) and Pentti Malaska (Finland). Tony Stevenson of Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane is currently President. I was first Secretary General and then President of the WFSF during much of the 1980s and early 90s.

Indeed, I have been teaching futures courses since 1967 when I introduced what is sometimes said to be the first undergraduate course on the future which went through the normal channels of faculty/administrative approval, when I did so while I was teaching for three years in the Department of Political Science at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia (Dator, 1971). I had more or less "invented" futures studies during the previous six years (1960-66) while I was teaching in the College of Law and Politics of Rikkyo University in Tokyo, Japan. But I am thankful to Joseph Bernd, chair of the Department, and Leslie Malpass, Dean of the College of Arts and Science of VPI for their active support of my embryonic futures work.

Shortly after I arrived in Blacksburg in 1966, David Greene, a member of the British Archigram Group who was a Visiting Professor in the School of Architecture and with whom I shared a duplex house near the campus, told me that I "sounded like Buckminster Fuller," who I had never heard of, and showed me a flyer announcing the creation of the World Future Society by Ed Cornish in Washington, DC. I immediately joined. Shortly thereafter, I published my first futures article in The Futurist (Dator, 1967). It was an excerpt of a much longer, and never fully published, essay titled, "Oh, we belong to a cybernetic, post-money, situational ethics society, my baby and me." Recently the journal Futures, in its Second Thoughts" series, re-published the old Futurist article, with four commentaries by futurists of different age-cohorts and cultures (Dator, 1997; Jones, 1997; Nordberg, 1997; Serra 1997; and Slaughter, 1997).

Also while I was at Virginia Tech, I compiled an extensive bibliography of books and articles relevant to the study of the future, which the WFS published in the WFS Bulletin (the predecessor to the Futures Research Quarterly). This brought me to the attention of John and Magda McHale (then working with Fuller at Southern Illinois University) and Eleonora Masini who headed the Italian futures group, IRADES, which published a quarterly newsletter on the development of futures studies globally reflective in part of their role in the 1967 Oslo conference convened by Robert Jungk of Austria and Johan Galtung of Norway, through Mankind 2000. I thus also was drawn into the circle of futurists who eventually formally established the WFSF in Paris in 1973 (See: Some Additional Early Futures Classics).

In 1969 I went to the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawaii specifically to teach graduate and undergraduate futures courses, and also to participate in the activities called "Hawaii 2000" which, under the inspiration of Daniel Bell's US initiative (Bell, D, 1968), were beginning under the sponsorship of then Governor John Burns, President of the Senate David McClung, and Speaker of the House Tadao Beppu, and under the main guidance of the Editor in Chief of the Honolulu Advertiser, George Chaplin, and Glenn Paige, a colleague in the Department of Political Science. Chaplin, Paige and myself attended the 1970 Kyoto Conference of the WFSF in part to recruit people from the WFSF to participate in the Hawaii 2000 Conference held in 1970 which was, I believe, still the best example of "anticipatory democracy" ever experienced (Chaplin and Paige, 1971; Dator, 1973).

In 1972, the Hawaii State Legislature created the Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies within the University of Hawaii (eventually within the Social Science Research Institute), which I still direct. The Center does contract and pro bono futures work for public and private groups in Hawaii and the Pacific island region, as well as throughout the United States, the Asia-Pacific region, and indeed, worldwide. The Center is best known for work in judicial foresight, which began with the Hawaii State Judiciary in 1971 (under the encouragement of Chief Justice William Richardson and Chief Court Administrator Lester Cingcade). Especially because of funding (1987-1997) from the State Justice Institute (SJI--a federal funding agency), the Center has worked directly and extensively with eleven other American state/territorial judiciaries (Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Florida, Massachusetts, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Tennessee and most notably, since 1987, with the judiciary of Virginia which, under the leadership of Chief Justice Harry L. Carrico, Court Administrator Rob Baldwin, and Court Planner Kathy Mays, has elevated judicial foresight to exceptional heights).

The Center has also worked indirectly with all American state judiciaries though futures conferences and workshops sponsored by the SJI, the American Judicature Society, the American Bar Association, and a wide variety of international, national, state, and local judicial, bar, and legal organizations such as the United Nations Asia and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, in Tokyo; the Supreme Court of South Korea; the judiciary of the Federated States of Micronesia and of the State of Pohnpei; the Subordinate Courts of Singapore; the US Federal Judicial Center; the Fifth Federal Judicial Circuit; the Congress of State Court Justices; the Conference of State Court Administrators; the Council of Chief Judges; the American Judges Association; the National Association for Court Management, the annual conference of the American Bar Association, the Western States Bar Assocation, and many more (See: Judicial Foresight).

In 1977, the Department of Political Science instituted a MA degree specialization in Alternative Futures which has been pumping consulting futurists into the world, at a modest rate, ever since. One of the features of that specialization is a year's paid internship in a futures consulting firm so that students learn how futures studies can usefully be applied in public and private organizations. Students of the Hawaii program have interned at many places, but we have our closest relationship with the Institute for Alternative Futures, in Alexandria, Virginia, which was founded in 1976 by Clem Bezold (still the President), Alvin Toffler, Jonas Salk, and myself, among many others (including Newt Gingrich who was then a future-oriented professor at West Georgia College).

It would be a big mistake to assume that I am alone in the futures field, as all of the other essays in this issue of ABS will make abundantly clear. It has been an extensive, worldwide activity from the beginning through the present. The national academy of sciences of Finland, China, Russia, Hungary, Bulgaria and perhaps others have futures studies departments.

And yet you, average reader of ABS, say you have never heard of any of this?

It is truly amazing indeed, and I am very grateful that a journal of the standing of the ABS has volunteered, with no coaxing from me or anyone else involved in this process, to lift the veil of unawareness from the eyes of the global academic community, and help, I hope, lure you, and all your colleagues, into this exciting and important area of intellectual and practical endeavor.


So what is futures studies? What are the theories and methods underlying the field? What are its basic concepts and metaphors? How is it related to other academic and practical fields? What is the relationship between teaching and consulting?

These are questions that I asked the authors of the papers in this issue of ABS to address.

While each responded to them in different ways, and some spent more time discussing some issues and less time on others, an amazing unity emerged within the overall breadth and diversity.

Everyone agreed that futures studies does not try to "predict" the future, in the sense of saying precisely what will happen to an individual, organization or country before it actually happens. However, many of the authors admit that they were originally drawn into futures studies in the hope that--indeed, often in the firm belief that--it would be possible to predict the future if one just had the correct theory, methods, data, and, of course, enough funding.

I, too, had entered futures studies with this belief, having been very much influenced by the 1950s-60s "behavioral revolution" in political science with its emphasis on quantitative methods and formal modeling. Indeed, it was because I attended Joe Bernd's NSF summer course in Mathematical Applications in Political Science, offered at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, Texas during the summer of 1965 (Bernd,

1966) that I returned from Japan in 1966 and went with Bernd to VPI to start the new Department of Political Science there.

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