Sustainable Futures Summer School

Sustainable Futures: Politics, Democracy, and Futuring

What we do in the present is profoundly influenced by the expectations of our futures. The annual Sustainable Futures Summer School (formerly known as 'Futuring for Sustainability' is an interactive course held from 3 - 7 July 2023. During this one-week course, we teach students to appreciate different pathways to sustainability. How can we realize societal transformations towards sustainability, to living well equitably within ecological means? What does a sustainable world look like? In what type of sustainable future would you want to live? How can we prepare and collaboratively create a sustainable world? How to navigate the inevitable political and social conflicts such transformations inevitably bring? In the Sustainable Futures summer school, these are central questions. We will address them using futuring, a novel approach to future-making pioneered by the Urban Futures Studio.

Sustainability is the defining challenge of the 21st century. It is becoming increasingly clear that how the world is organised today fails to safeguard a liveable future. In this summer school, we take this challenge seriously as a cultural, social, and political challenge. How can we live up to that challenge? How can societies and communities build pathways to sustainable futures? Is it possible to go beyond technical solutions and imagine futures that are meaningfully different from today? Our expectations about the future, dreams, and imaginations profoundly influence how we act in the present. Visions of plausible, possible, or desirable futures are fundamentally important in shaping our social and environmental futures. For example, consider the effects of novels such as George Orwell’s 1984, films such as Back to the Future, and artistic styles such as Afrofuturism and steampunk on how people feel about and prepare for the future. Unexpected downturns such as 9/11, the financial crisis, and the Covid19 pandemic had a similar effect. Technological and societal developments always rely on images of the future and people acting based on their imaginations and expectations. Expectations and visions are what make people act. In society, people and groups are always futuring, always actively trying to shape expectations and visions for the future. They are always trying to shape the future.

Against this backdrop of ubiquitous images of the future, the most critical challenge of the coming decades is the need to craft sustainable futures. Futures that are also just, desirable, and democratic. In this summer school, the Urban Futures Studio and Pathways to Sustainability collaborate to connect technical and environmental questions around sustainability to social questions around equality, democracy, and participation. It has become increasingly clear that finding pathways to sustainable futures is a profound social and cultural challenge. Deeply held values connect to even the most high-tech solutions. Drawing on a wide variety of literature, ranging from political science to urban planning to integrated assessment modelling, this summer school offers the Urban Futures Studio approach to shaping visions for desirable sustainable futures. It also provides our interpretation of how to give those visions a social life, our take on making them affect processes in the real world. Throughout the summer school, questions of democracy and politics will be a central focus: who shapes sustainable futures, and how do they do so?

Join us for an interactive course to learn to understand how techniques of futuring contribute to realising societal transformations towards sustainability: living well equitably within ecological means. Learn how to imagine positive futures and mobilise to achieve them in a democratic and participatory fashion. Understand futuring techniques, including scenario planning, modelling, backcasting, experiential futuring, arts-based approaches, science fiction, and design. Learn to understand where our current sustainability discourse comes from - and how ‘the future’ became an object of study. Lecturers from various disciplines will introduce what they deem to be crucial insights for building a more sustainable future. Try out these techniques and insights by experimenting in a real-world setting in work studio sessions. This course builds your capacity to develop new visions and imaginations of possible futures and alternative sustainability pathways.

Please Note: We are happy to announce that this summer school will be entirely physical again after a year’s hiatus and two virtual editions. We look forward to welcoming you to Utrecht and collaborating with you in person.

Apply for the summer school '23

  • Application deadline: 01 May 2023
  • For those doing their PhD or with limited funding, some scholarships or fee waivers/reductions will be available.
  • For questions, please contact:
Apply via UtrechtSummerschool

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