Emily Spiers speaks about speculative futures on the Visualising War Podcast


Ancient Greek Armour

In this episode of the podcast series, Alice König, Principal Investigator of the Visualising War project at St Andrews, talks to Dr Emily Spiers, who is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Futures and German in the Department of Languages and Cultures at Lancaster University; Dr Will Slocombe, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Liverpool and specialist in Science Fiction; and Lt Col Matthew Brown, Chief of Future Concepts and Strategy with the RAF (on loan from the US Air Force). All three have been collaborating on a project, led by Matthew, that uses fictional storytelling to help members of the RAF and the wider military community visualise what the future may hold. Two editions of the RAF's Stories from the Future have been published already, with more to come soon.

Emily kicks the conversation off by explaining what 'futures literacy' is: a skill or capability that we can all develop to help us imagine and discuss the future and make better decisions in the present. Traditionally, futures thinking has been done by a handful of experts behind closed doors, with a particular focus on science and technology. However, momentum is shifting towards more creative and inclusive approaches, with storytelling proving to be a powerful tool that enables lots of different people to debate possible, plausible, preferable and not-so-preferable futures.

This gets us thinking about science fiction. Will discusses the 'prophetic vision' which science fiction has often been thought to have, but also its more systematic use in futures thinking in more recent years, in particular in defence and security contexts. We talk about the overlaps between 'science fiction', 'speculative fiction' and 'useful fiction'; and Matthew gives us some insights into the RAF Stories from the Future project - how it came about, its focus and aims, and what impact it has been having. As he puts it, the beauty of all the future scenarios sketched in the project is that they are 'just stories', but stories that gets people talking, thinking and projecting.

Matthew talks about the rapid pace of change, recent geopolitical shifts, the growing climate crisis, and the urgency of involving more people in futures thinking as the defence and security landscapes shift. Emily discusses her work with children/young adults, and the wellbeing impacts which can result when young people feel that they have some agency in shaping potentially scary futures. We hear about the virtual 'Museum of the Future' which Emily and Will have been working on, under the direction of Jim Maltby (a Principal Scientist at the Defence Science Technology Laboratory); and Emily also discusses the Past Futures Project, which looks at history as a valuable repository of futures not taken. We end by talking about the role and responsibility of futures literacy to visualise aftermath, conflict resolution and peace-building.

We hope you enjoy the episode! For a version of our podcast with close captions, please use this link. For more information about individuals and their projects, please have a look on the University of St Andrews Visualising War website.  

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