Futures: A History of Futures Studies 1945-1980

Abgeschlossenes Projekt


The “future” became a central academic, intellectual and political category in Western industrialized countries during the 1950s and 1960s. The unprecedented economic boom and the breakthrough of modernization theories ignited political planning conceptions. What is more, futures studies derived from Cold War mentalities, as new theories and tools for studying the future (such as cybernetics) grew out of the dynamic developments in science and technology that were driven by the early Cold War. Further, a critical approach to studying the future was fueled by the New Left and their ideas of securing peace as well as emancipating human beings from constrictive political structures. Thus, this book understands futures studies as a set of interdisciplinary approaches for forecasting, planning and thinking about the future within specific networks which emerged in the 1950s and 1960s in Western industrialized countries (and similarly in the socialist states). Around 1970, however, futures studies were globalized as most of the sectors of the field opened themselves up to trans-bloc exchange and to global worldviews, enhancing environmentalism and stimulating notions of One World solidarity. Knowledge was exchanged transgressing the borders of the Cold War, and the futures studies’ mental maps changed from having a West-East axis towards acquiring a global perspective. Further, the field more and more encompassed not only scientific approaches to studying the future but also admitted forms of lay knowledge on creating the future, thus allowing for negotiation across the borders between science, the arts and a range of civil movements.

The research project conducted by Elke Seefried has investigated the history of West German, Western and global futures studies in a transnational perspective. Combining methods from the history of science, cultural, and political history, the study, firstly, explores the emergence of futures studies and approaches taken. Secondly, it analyzes transatlantic, trans-bloc and global processes of knowledge exchange. And thirdly, the project integrates a case study on West Germany, investigating into the conflicting futures of the field and into the role futurists played for giving political advice and generating expertise used in the Federal Chancellery and ministries in West Germany.

The overarching research interest here is to make a contribution to the booming field of historical time and the history of the future. The study highlights the break of the years around 1970 in the history of Western industrialized countries. Further, the book sheds light on the place of futures studies caught between technological optimism and perceptions of crisis. And lastly, it shows how the field was guided by cultural and political epistemologies and itself contributed to political and cultural change. The project began at the University of Augsburg in 2008/09 and was concluded at the IfZ in early 2013. Elke Seefried attained her Habilitation degree with it at the Ludwig Maximilians University Munich in summer 2013. The study had awarded three research prices (a.o. the Carl Erdmann Prize of the German Historians’ association for the best Habilitation thesis). At the moment, the study is being translated. The English edition will be published by Bergbahn Books in 2021.

Publications within the project

Elke Seefried


Quellen und Darstellungen zur Zeitgeschichte

Berlin 2015


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