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  • Jenna Rines

The Role of Futures Thinking in Ecological Justice Work

Before we get to this post's topic, we are excited to announce the 2022 Virtual Conference on Ecological Justice in partnership with Adelphi University! This year's conference is on April 12th from 10 am to 5 pm ET and the theme is "Vital Connections: Fostering Resilience and Cultivating Impact”. We are looking forward to receiving submissions once again for:

If you have any questions about the conference or submissions, please reach out to Kate at swcontedconference@adelphi.edu. We can't wait to see you there!

 

For just over a year I have had the pleasure of being part of the Social Work Health Futures Lab, a fellowship and space dedicated to thinking about whether futures thinking and foresight are useful paradigms for social workers to pull from in our work (and how this might look in practice). I have learned a TON so far, and I want to share some ideas and resources that I think are important for social workers in ecological justice.


What is 'futures thinking' anyway?


In Jennifer M. Gidley's book The Future: A Very Short Introduction (2017), it is clear humans have been dabbling with ideas about the future for a very long time. This article from the Center for Engaged Foresight explains it well:

"Futures thinking is not about crystal ball gazing or prophesizing to predict the future but rather it is a transdisciplinary or meta-approach to studying possible, probable, and preferable futures." (Centre for Engaged Foresight, n.d.)

For those of us following trends pertaining to the climate and biodiversity crises and aware of how much of our present is shaped by things like big tech (for more check out The Big Nine by Amy Webb), you might be holding onto some pretty tough ideas of what 'the future' could look like. More and more we are seeing people and companies with the most power and privilege actively pulling the future that they want closer to them. This is part of the story, and at times a very dreary view of 'the future'.


However, people who subscribe to a more pluralistic view do not think of the future as a singular inevitability, but as "multiple knowledges" contributing to many different possible futures (Gidley, 2017). This leaves room for more hopeful and empowering action that helps people fight against harmful or undesirable futures and "create contingencies, alternatives, strategies to innovate, and transform today" (Center for Engaged Foresight, n.d.).


I have learned about the deep connections to futures thinking that Black, Indigenous, Queer, and Disabled people (among many others) have long had and actively practice to fight against oppressive and violent forces, all the while pulling preferred futures closer. Some of these resources are included below which I encourage you to check out:


Afrofuturism:

Indigenous Futurism:

Queer Futures, Disability Futures, Crip Futures (and more!):

I think there are important lessons that social workers at the intersection of ecological justice can take away from the wisdom in the resources above and from futures thinking in general. Although at times 'the future' may seem entirely daunting and set in stone due to forces beyond our individual control, what I have learned so far from this fellowship is the importance of knowing and thinking about the kinds of futures that we (and those we care for and about) want, and how we can work towards them together.


If you are interested in learning more about futures thinking, here is a course by the Institute for the Future (IFTF) via Coursera you can check out, as well as some interesting materials they put together about the future of climate action.


Is this a helpful way of thinking for your practice? Have you come across futures thinking before, or do you already integrate it in your life? As always, please share your feedback with us.

 

We are also thrilled to welcome new interns Christopher and Kate to the ISWEJ team! Here is a little bit about them:


Christopher Daniels BA, Liberal Studies, magna cum laude, 2017, SUNY Purchase, is currently pursuing a Master of Advanced Clinical Practice at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. Christopher has experience working in crisis intervention as an operator of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and as a mental health support for perinatal populations in inpatient psychiatric settings. Currently, Christopher is a social work intern at Project Stay, a full service sexual health clinic, where he focuses on 1:1 mental health support and HIV prevention efforts throughout New York City. Outside of social work, Christopher has earned a certificate in contemporary dance at London Contemporary Dance School, taught dance throughout mainland China, and worked on the fashion team at Marie Claire Magazine.


Kate Chaikovsky is currently an MSW candidate at Columbia School of Social Work and a practicing therapist at CICA, a Boston therapy group with an emphasis on diversity. Kate has always had a great interest in environmental work, leading her to major in Sociology with an environmental concentration from Vanderbilt University. Through her social work and former position as an English Language Teacher, Kate gained further understanding of inequity in environmental issues, inspiring her to contribute to the environmental movement using a justice lens.


 

References:


Barber, T. E. (2018). 25 Years of Afrofuturism and Black Speculative Thought: Roundtable with Tiffany E. Barber, Reynaldo Anderson, Mark Dery, and Sheree Renée Thomas. TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, 136-144.


Broyld, D. J. (2019). The Underground Railroad As Afrofuturism: Enslaved Blacks Who Imagined A Future And Used Technology To Reach The" Outer Spaces of Slavery". Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 6(3), 170-184.


Changfoot, N., Rice, C., Chivers, S., Williams, A. O., Connors, A., Barrett, A., Lalonde, G., & Gordon, M. (2021, July 12). Re-imagining Aging: Crip, Queer, and Indigenous Futures. Bodies in Translation. https://bodiesintranslation.ca/re-imagining-aging-crip-queer-and-indigenous-futures/


Dillon, G.L. (2012). Walking the clouds: An anthology of Indigenous science fiction.

University of Arizona Press.


Gidley, J. M. (2017). The future: A very short introduction. Oxford University Press.


Hickey, A. (2019). Rupturing settler time: visual culture and geographies of Indigenous futurity. World Art, 9(2), 163-180.


Lewis, J. E., Arista, N., Pechawis, A., & Kite, S. (2018, Jul 16). Making Kin with the Machines. Journal of Design and Science. https://jods.mitpress.mit.edu/pub/lewis-arista-pechawis-kite/release/1


Mühlbacher, J. E. (2020). “Melancholic? Naturally!”: Impulses for Cultural Transformation from Queer-Ecological Worldmaking, Activism, and Art in a Western Context. World Futures, 76(5-7), 353-374.


Piper, K. (2018, Oct 22). The case against colonizing space to save humanity. Vox. https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/2018/10/22/17991736/jeff-bezos-elon-musk-colonizing-mars-moon-space-blue-origin-spacex


Webb, A. (2019). The big nine: How the tech titans and their thinking machines could warp humanity. Hachette UK.


Whyte, K. P. (2018). Indigenous science (fiction) for the Anthropocene: Ancestral dystopias and fantasies of climate change crises. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 1(1-2), 224-242.

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