The Future Multiple

Matthew Jon Spaniol, Nicholas James Rowland

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


– This paper asks “Why is the future in futures studies plural?” The attitude toward inquiry, based on post-actor-network theory (ANT) literature, positions philosophical questions about the ontological character of the future within the context of “planning” for it (i.e. in practice). Multiplicity, as a post-ANT sensibility, helps one make sense of the empirical materials. This paper examines the possibility that rather than being alternatives to one another, plural futures and the singular future might co-exist in practice, and, thus, constitute a multiplicity.
– In this case study, “planning” is narrative scenario planning. The second author facilitates dialogue-based long-term strategic scenario planning processes, primarily in Scandinavia and Northern Europe, and contributes a wealth of professional experience to the project. The first author, an academic, shadows the second author. This paper examines experiential and observational data for evidence of the ontological character of the future. Elements of a typical scenario planning process, in this case, about the possibility of crewless (i.e. unmanned) shipping vessels are demonstrated – although, insight into the crewless ship is submerged by our analytical attentiveness to the ontology of the future.
– The findings bear on what sort of “object” the future is. Practices associated with planning for the future appear to transform it so that one future becomes many, and, without irony, managing the growing number of futures seems to be a core function of planning for the future. The implication is that neither plural futures nor the singular future is – individually – satisfactory to capture what is found in practice. It is both plural and singular; ontologically, it is the future multiple.
– The original contribution is in demonstrating how plural futures and the singular future co-exist in practice. Thus, an eclipse of the future by futures can only ever be partial. For “futures” to be conceptually potent, “the future” must be at least provisionally believable and occasionally useful. Otherwise, if “the future” were so preposterous an idea, then “futures” would cease to be a critical alternative to it. Futures needs the future; they are relationally bound together in a multiplicity. This paper considers what such a logical reality implies for a field that distances itself from the future and self-identifies with futures
Original languageEnglish
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)556-573
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Scenario planning

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