“It’s a Crossroads, Not an Arrow”: Scenario Interventions as the Imagination of Dilemmatic Events

Ann Mische, University of Notre Dame
Wesley Hedden, University of Notre Dame
Pedro Pontes, University of Notre Dame

Scenario methodologies claim a subversive status in relation to conventional forecasting techniques. By engaging temporal multiplicity and systemic complexity, they propose to disrupt “official futures” and provoke people into more flexible and imaginative consideration of future possibilities. In recent decades, scenario methodologies have moved from corporate and military venues into “public interest” domains, engaging issues ranging from the future of democracy or transitions from armed conflict to urbanization, migration, food security and adaptation to climate change. As a cultural technology for foresight intervention, these projects are supported by coalitions of consultancies, think tanks, research organizations, foundations, civil society groups and multilateral organizations. We draw on a database of 240+ public interest scenario projects worldwide since 1990 to examine to what degree they imagine futures as consisting of dilemmatic choices vs. linear trends or open possibilities. We examine how stories produced by these techniques characterize dilemmas and tradeoffs related to economic growth, state power, political participation, social inequality, peace and security, and technological development. We note (a) how lines of action are juxtaposed in dilemmatic ways to each other; (b) how story-sets contain, privilege, or mediate between diverging viewpoints; and (c) what stories are omitted or deemed outside the realm of plausibility. We consider how depictions of dilemmas and tradeoffs vary across distinct “genres” of scenario projects as well as across world regions. We argue that these differences express fractal tensions and ambivalences among differently positioned actors in the global arena in relation to the futures of capitalism and democracy

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 Presented in Session 156. Figuring Global Politics