On the Role of Envisioned Futures in Sustainability Transitions

Sammanfattning: Different kinds of representations of the future are often asked for in order to motivate and inspire societal change. These envisioned futures can be based on political or behavioural change, or may visualize technical developmentwhich could help us solve complex societal problems. The latter type of epresentation is especially important if we aim for sustainable development, and even more so if we aim to live up to the Paris agreement and mitigateclimate change. Such technical visions are the particular focus of this thesis.The importance of visions of and expectations on technology is also highlighted in the research field which focuses on socio-technical transitions towards sustainable production and consumption. Visions and positive expectations are claimed to have a coordinating effect, they attract resources and legitimise development of technologies which promise to enable the vision to be reached. Whether expectations and envisioned futures in general can really be claimed to have coordinating effects is however not generally agreed on. The aim with this thesis has been to develop analytical tools to help us explore the role of envisioned futures in sustainability transitions, so that we can acquire a better understanding of how they become efficacious.The thesis includes four research papers. Paper I and II focus on how a reconceptualisation of structure and agency is needed in sustainability transitions if explanatory theories are to be developed of what transitions areand how they come about. Based on critical realism, the groundwork for such theories is laid. Transitions are reconceptualised as transformations which result in systems with new emergent properties. This means that the study of transitions is really a study of how new structures that enable or constrain action come about. It is argued that to understand the importance of expectations we have to separate the act of expecting, which is part of humanreflexivity, and that which motivates us to act in the world, from expectation statements. The latter is a causal narrative linking propositional statements of how the world works which can be used in different ways: to preparefor anticipated outcomes, to evoke emotional engagement or to learn by seeing things in a new light. Margaret Archer’s work on morphogenesis of structure, human reflexivity, and our internal conversation has guided this work.Paper III and IV focus on different kinds of envisioned futures and the different ways in which they can create engagement in the recipient of these representations. The envisioned futures studied include literary fiction(climate fiction or ‘cli-fi’), scientific climate scenarios, and expectations on technology for carbon capture and utilisation. Our understanding of the world relies on story-telling to a large extent. We engage in the world throughpractice but we also fit these experiences into encompassing stories of how the world works and relate them to our personal concerns. Both concerns and rationales acquired through sense-making are important when actors reflex-ively deliberate on how to act. Explorative scenarios and predictive statements on future technology capabilities can give us a better understanding of different possible futures and what means we have to reach them, while fictive stories are better at providing affective engagement. Different kinds of envisioned futures are therefore important in a debate on where we want to go and how we should get there.

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