Centre for Rural Research Annual Review 2004 - College of Social ...

socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk

Centre for Rural Research Annual Review 2004 - College of Social ...

quasi-state policy domains that increasingly employ the category of futures withintheir work have readily absorbed the language, tone and techniques of this evolvingcorporate discourse. It is a discourse where open time is now broached through theflexible logics of ‘scenario building’ and ‘envisioning’; where operational planners arenow ‘reflexive self-learners’ engaged in ‘strategic conversations’ with these alternatefutures; where critical uncertainties are now matched with ‘novel’ thought and ‘preemptive’solutions (see Fahey and Randall, 1998; Lindgren and Bandhold 1998;Ringland 1998).The question that guides the concerns of this paper is whether this brave new world offuturology amounts to anything especially different from the world of ordinary,mundane, rural policy formation. In particular, the paper explores this concern by wayof the insights of the Tomorrow Project’s State of the Countryside 2020 (SoC2020)envisioning exercise, a process in which I was invited to engage, and for whoseinsights I am therefore partly responsible. I begin by providing a short overview of theTomorrow Project’s work and explain the terms on which SoC2020 report wasconstructed. I then use this overview as the basis for a critique of its underlyingassumptions and purpose. My chief argument is that while there is good reason toclaim that narratives created in the arena of professional futurology rest on open andflexible stories of future space-time, they have little choice but to submit themselvesto the more closed temporalities of common place policy work. Or to put this anotherway, in spite of their motivation to be something ‘over and above’ the longstandingmachinery of policy making, the dilemma for rural envisioning exercises, such as thework of the Tomorrow Project, is how to avoid confirming, rather than challenging, aminimal sense of rural future.Inside Tomorrow: 2020 CountrysidesThe Tomorrow Project was set up in 1996 by two individuals with a longstandinginterest and experience in community affairs’ programmes. The mission of the Projectis to “help individuals and organisations to think and learn about the future of people’slives in order to a gain a better understanding of the present and to learn about thechoices which will influence the future”, (www.tomorrowproject.net) and covers adiverse range of themes from social exclusion and poverty to the changing nature offamilies and friendships, learning, and faith and values. The nature of its work wasinitially informed by a series of consultations with what the directors considered someof the most “original and influential” 1 figures in contemporary public life but has beentaken forward through a process of shared discussion and learning with representativesof a diverse set of social constituencies: banks, public sector institutions, communitygroups, and so forth. These stakeholders in the Tomorrow Project keep the charityoperating with small donations, typically from community affairs and corporateresponsibility budgets, but it also has over 17,000 people who are kept abreast of theproject’s work and who, to various degrees, participate in its formal programmes ofwork. What distinguishes the project’s work from merely planning, its founders1 This comment and other un-attributed ideas that follow are derived from a depth-interviewconducted with a Tomorrow Project founder.82

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