Narrating Futures

This project identifies a new, hitherto uncharted and unexplored field within Narratology: future narratives. Narratives are traditionally concerned with past events or with events that are happening right now, and narratives process them into a meaningful sequence. Even if they claim to be about the future, as, for example, utopian tales, narratives process these events as if they had already happened. They are mock future narratives, so to speak. In contrast, future narratives in the sense of this project are narratives that preserve the characteristic feature of future time, namely that it is yet undecided, open, and multiple, and that it has not yet crystallized into actuality.

We do not yet have a grammar, a logic, or a poetics of future narratives in this sense. This project will identify the various approaches pertinent to conceptualizing future(s) narratives. It will identify the problem-solving potential of these approaches and try and integrate them into an overall model of future(s) narratives. Firmly rooted in Narratology, the project has interesting interfaces with Philosophy, Linguistics, the theory of History, Game Theory, Decision Theory, and Futurology.

The project is a two-sided one: on the one hand, it will analyze a corpus of future-related 'texts' in the widest sense of the word (see below); on the other, it will conceptualize a grammar, a logic, and a poetics for said future(s) narratives, so that the mediation of multiple futures' scenarios becomes feasible. In other words: it is both analytical and projective, both theoretical and with far-reaching practical consequences.

The impact of the findings of this project will be across the board – and not only for the Humanities and Social Sciences, but also for Political, Environmental, and Business decision making: 'Narrative' can be claimed to be the new foundational category of the Humanities, because it is only through narrative processing that we experience or recognize a mere sequence of events as meaningful. It follows that any kind of future scenario that retains the openness of forked-path or feedback or cross-impact models can only be mediated and communicated to decision-makers and to the public as well, if it relies on open- and multiple-narrative techniques and devices.

It is of prime importance not to forget that 'narrative' refers not only to fictional narratives but, of course, also to non-fictional narratives, just to any kind of discursive account that selects and combines events or options in a semiotically describable way.

At the same time, it must be kept in mind that the narratives in question are by no means restricted to any one medium, such as language, or print. On the contrary, movies, or computer games, or other electronic media that allow for multiple continuation are equally in the focus of our research.