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  • 2023PillingPhD

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Graphic Social Futures: Developing Visual Tools for Futures Research

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2023
Number of pages361
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis seeks to understand how social futures research can be used to engage with, and subsequently involve the public in futures thinking. It has been argued that societies shape themselves partly through the images of the future that they construct. However, the creation of visions and visioning is frequently entangled with commercial and business strategy, and as a result often fails to represent the aspirations of a society. Therefore, what is needed are specific tools to help engage the public in futures research, to help guide discussions, and to reveal the existing underlying social structures, necessary to describe alternative social imaginaries.
This research presents a methodology for the creation of graphic social futures, depictions of alternative imaginaries which are themselves socially constructed, using the lens of social futures as distinct from technological futures to engage with the public, to better facilitate discussions around the future of technology and its impact on society. In this instance 3D Printing technology has been used as a driver for change, providing a shared focus for discussions to explore alternative futures.
Social futures is an emergent interdisciplinary field that aims to bring about, analyse and emphasise the ways in which social practices, institutes and social groups are organised and reorganised, by strongly emphasising and placing the social into futures thinking. Through the creation of alternative futures, visioning allows us to explore different options and, as a society, negotiate our values and preferences. Design Fiction offers a way of exploring alternative futures, free from commercial influences or constraints, although, these are frequently influenced and informed by those who are deemed to have ‘expertise’ – scientists and technologists, political scientists, economists, but rarely wider publics. Therefore, further work is needed in addressing the issue of how to better engage with the very public that this method is purported to be concerned with.
This research contributes to the emergent field of social futures research, through the development and analysis of graphic social futures as a method to democratise the construction and discussion of possible futures. These graphic social futures work by exposing possible flawed futures, and provoking debate on how things could, or should be, and encourages consideration for how we get there.