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

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

the same. Scenarios are descriptions of what alternative futures may belike” (Moynagh and Worsley, 2003, p.12)The creation of sideshadows is a hallmark of the Tomorrow Project’s work and iscentral to the logic of futures work more generally. Its aim is to follow the differentthreads of forward causation to see where they might lead. It seeks to think throughthe different ways events might be played out over time. It asks, given a particular setof trends and drivers, what variations of future time are possible? For instance,Moynagh and Worsley (2003, p.92) highlight: a ‘countryside means business’scenario in which “rural England develops in an environmentally sustainable directionand is socially fragmented”; a ‘Go for Green!’ scenario in which “a moreenvironmentally sustainable future …[ ]…is also more socially fragmented; an ‘All onboard’ scenario in which greater social cohesion combines with less environmentalsustainability; and a ‘Triple Whammy’ scenario in which “environmental, social andeconomic sustainability are combined.”Herein lies my second critique. It is interesting to reflect that, when instructed tocreate these visions of rural future, participants in the SoC2020 consultation wereasked to create not only challenging scenarios of future time but also plausible ones.Why is this potentially problematical? The idea of plausibility in this context is that itis the enemy of open time. After all, what does it mean to speak of plausibility? In onesense, plausibility is meant to fashion future time around a sense of realism. It ismeant to appeal to the idea of ‘likely’ outcomes and in so doing imbue thoseoutcomes with a sense of credibility. But the criterion of plausibility is another way ofsaying acceptability: acceptability to what already is in place; acceptability to theprevailing order of things; acceptability to a priori assumptions about the inexorablenature and direction of change. If future time is unaccomplished - if it is truly open tochange and transformation - then why does it need this plausibility check? Whetherthe SoC2020 realises it or not, the idea of plausibility, I would argue, involvesbending future time to the interests of the present. It allows these interests to beabstracted as a rather pragmatic, almost benign, set of limits over future possibilities.Furthermore, despite expressing four competing visions of future countrysidealongside its desire to avoid asserting a singular, normative, vision of future time,there is nonetheless an implicit (and in many respects explicit) scheme of value inplace. The report suggests that there are many potential countrysides, and it is carefulto conclude that its own four scenarios are not exhaustive. Yet it is not necessary tobe a wily reader of discourse to realise that the ‘triple whammy’ scenario is seen asdistinctly more superior to the ‘countryside means business’ scenario. SoC2020implies as much when it sees fit to suggest that, “this is the scenario that many peoplewould want, but it is very demanding” (ibid p.9, author’s emphasis), and that the“overall theme of the report is that “environmental, economic and social sustainabilitycan be combined, but it will be extremely difficult” (ibid p.13, author’s emphasis).The future may be open to quite different possibilities; but it is only one future thatreally matters here. As I will now show, this is a highly opportune situation indeed,for it would be fair to say that, if the work of the Tomorrow Project was designed to86

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