The American futures studies movement (1965-1975); its roots, motivations, and influences

Thumbnail Image
Tolon, Kaya
Major Professor
Amy Bix
Committee Member
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Organizational Unit
Journal Issue
Is Version Of

In the 1960s and 1970s many Americans of widely dissimilar motivations used the study of possible futures as an open forum to express their desires, fears, and visions. Their efforts led to new organizations, publications, conferences, and university programs, which constituted an intellectual movement with far-reaching influences. The emergence of post-WWII futurism is a multi-stranded history involving people with diverse motivations and backgrounds who aspired to revolutionize policymaking at all levels. Their efforts crossed national borders and often transcended Cold War divisions. Many futurists hailed from governmental, business, or scientific backgrounds and advocated for issues ranging from national economic planning boards, or "future-consciousness" at corporate levels of decision-making, to sustainable ecological practices.

One of their many historical strands went back to the early Cold War years and the philosopher-mathematicians employed by the RAND Corporation. Given the sensitive forecasting challenges brought by Cold War unknowns, these architects of futurist methodologies believed they needed to devise better - more scientific - opinion technologies. Their search for improving the tools, such as the Delphi method, of future-minded decision-making continued into the 1960s and 1970s. While qualitative assessments still reigned supreme in the social sciences, quantitative analysis became increasingly important during the 1960s. Futurists used social, political, and economic indicators to study alternative futures and comment on their presents. These futures researchers prized the quantification of past and present values both for physical and social concepts. From these numbers, they aspired to clarify the future: how to predict and understand it, and ultimately how to change it for the better.

Futurists cared about many things, not only about perfecting their methodologies or epistemic foundations, but also about addressing current, pragmatic, and popular issues. The desire to disseminate their ideas more widely and have their methodology gain greater influence compelled futurists to organize and formalize their field. The field's momentum slowed down by the 1980s as many critics disapproved of futurist methods and the deterministic, wishful, or simplistic outlooks that some futurists imagined. Although the movement in the United States was unique, other international case-studies developed in distinct yet comparable ways. Although futures researchers around the globe for centuries had enjoyed speculating about the future, this twentieth-century movement promised better predictions that were more systematic, detailed, controlled, quantitative, and expert.

Subject Categories
Sat Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2011