Future-forming interdisciplinary research

University of Cambridge PhD Researcher Mareike Zobel visits the ISF

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In my dissertation, I study how ideas about the future are framed and enacted in contemporary environmental documentary cinema (2006 to present). Based on a sociology of knowledge approach to discourse and informed by social theories of practice, my project aims to find out how knowledge about the future shapes social practices. With a qualitative-reconstructive film analysis, I zoom in on questions of knowledge, practice and power: How do the films construct certain ‘truths’ about the future (both implicitly and explicitly)? How do these ‘truths’ about the future inform the practices that are represented? What – old or new – orders of knowledge and systems of power are the result of those practices?

During my one-week research visit at Lancaster in February 2019, I was able to discuss these questions and many more with a number of scholars and PhD students at the ISF. Whether we were talking about apocalyptic fiction, sociological perspectives on time and agency, or the (techno-)futures of climate control and mobility, I was impressed by everyone’s strong commitment and sense of urgency to address social and cultural questions concerning the future. I was invited to attend the ISF Breakfast Briefing, a Leverhulme Material Social Futures PhD Programme session on energy infrastructures, and a multidisciplinary discussion on the topic of ‘hope’ in preparation of a Global Futures Event titled ‘Hope and the Future’ that also took place during my visit. The conversations I had with ISF scholars from all different disciplinary backgrounds helped me greatly with central aspects of my dissertation, including questions about aesthetic representations of the future, individual and collective agency especially with regards to climate change and sustainable futures, and above all the link between social theories of practice and future research. Thanks to everyone at the ISF for being so welcoming – and a special thanks to Nicola Spurling for making this visit possible!

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