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Institute of Advanced Study

Theorising the Future

Working Group

Institute of Advanced Study, Cosin's Hall

This working group will bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to problematise the category of 'the future', to examine how it has been conceptualised by a range of different philosophers and critical thinkers, and to investigate how the future might be imagined anew in the midst of a host of contemporary problems and concerns. Thinking about the category of 'the future' is of importance at a time when our response to a range of events - from climate change to new technologies - depends on implicit assumptions about how the future relates to the past and present. Specifically, the working group will be orientated around two themes.

The first theme - Genealogies of the Future - concerns differences in how 'the future' hasbeen imagined.  The future has been framed in many different ways; as recurrence, return, end, horizon, repetition, linear development, surprise and so on. These differences matter as imaginations of the future underpin attempts to bring about promising futures or stop threatening futures. To understand this multiplicity, the programme of work will focus on the emergence and descent of various ways of imagining 'the future'. These will include: how the idea of the future as an imminent/transcendent End of the World has been central to the emergence and authority of historical monotheism; how the future as a domain of finite possibilities has been integral to the types of rational prognosis; and how the future as indefinite, open, and perfectible has enabled accounts of progress.

The second theme - Conceptualisations of the Future - will focus on how conceptualisations of the future form an inherent aspect of the ontology and founding concepts of a range of 20th century post-Kantian thinkers and the practice of a range of progressive political movements. This will involve focusing on alternative, often non-linear, conceptualisations of futurity and the difference these make to attempts to make or enable better futures. The programme of work will draw alternative imaginations of 'the future' into connection with a range of contemporary concerns, including community, risks and hazards, the city, difference, and identity.  

The programme of work will involve a series of meetings over the course of the year. These meetings will vary in form, to include: reading group discussions based around pre-circulated texts and key questions; investigations into key related themes including the concept of the 'event', 'progress' and 'time'; and presentations by Durham staff, IAS fellows, and external speakers to provoke and aid discussion.

The core group consists of:

  • Dr Caitríona Ní Dhúill (Department of German);
  • Dr Alastair Renfrew (Department of Russian);
  • Dr Ben Anderson (Geography);
  • Dr Angharad Closs-Stephens (Geography);
  • Dr Ingo Gildenhard (Department of Classics and Ancient History);
  • Dr Mathew Kearnes (Geography).

The aim is to build and support a network of individuals working across Durham University on theorising the concept of 'the future'.

Working Group Meeting Dates

28 October 2010
11 November 2010
10 February 2011
10 March 2011


All meetings take place at 4.15pm at the Institute of Advanced Study.  The meetings are free and open to postgraduates and academics. For further information please contact Dr Ben Anderson