thenextwave

Futures and metaphors

Posted in books, future by thenextwavefutures on 31 October, 2015

CLA2I reviewed CLA 2.0, the second causal layered analysis reader, for the APF’s newsletter, Compass, and the full review is attached as a PDF below. To declare an interest: I have a co-written chapter (with Wendy Schultz) in the reader, based on our article [opens pdf] on comparative scenarios methods in the Journal of Futures Studies.

The layers of Causal Layered Analysis are litanies, systems, worldviews and metaphors. One of the things reading CLA 2.0 for the review made me realise was the importance of metaphors in influencing the impact of futures work. So I’m sharing that part of the review here, below the fold.

The realm of poetry

The metaphor layer of Causal Layered Analysis, in my experience, is at once the most difficult and most distinctive part of CLA. Reassuringly, at least personally, I found reading the case studies that it wasn’t just me: a number of these case studies (without pointing fingers; this is difficult work) didn’t get close when it came to the metaphor layer. The reason metaphors are distinctive is because they tap a part of the mind “belonging historically to the realm of poetry, stories, fables and fictions,” as Lynda Shevellar writes, a part that other futures processes don’t reach. But metaphors connect futures to power and its critiques.

Ian Lowe picks up on this in a reflective essay on the history of Limits to Growth and climate change, which deploys CLA to reconstruct this history as a cultural history:

“Causal layered analysis … suggests there is little point in refining the science or improving the mathematical proofs for these serious problems. Effective responses are only likely to be socially acceptable and politically practicable if society embraces new metaphors.”

The pseudonymous Saliv Ben Larif broadens this in a rich chapter specifically about metaphor:

Metaphors create reality

“As Lakoff and Johnson note, when governments, media and other powerful groups use metaphors it has implications for policy, legislation and public opinion: ‘The people who get to impose their metaphors on the culture get to define what we consider to be true.’ … Thus, metaphors not only describe reality but create it. In turn, historical and social contexts also determine what kind of metaphors gain currency and become ‘entrenched.’”

In our modest pilot research project, Wendy Schultz and I found that scenarios developed from worldviews—where the metaphorical layer remained too difficult to see—seemed not to be poorer than those with added metaphor. But reading several of these essays, including Larif’s, I wonder now if the impact of the work is greater when the metaphor layer is fully developed, in terms of constructing preferred futures that challenge the present. Larif’s essay can be read as a first set of notes towards helping facilitators, and groups, develop a process for doing this more systematically.

Sohail Inayatuallh observes in an introductory chapter here that as CLA has evolved, so “the post-structural toolbox” that provided the context for it “has seen little use or evolution.” He makes the important point that the elements within that toolbox—deconstruction, genealogy, distancing, alternative pasts and futures and reordering knowledge—are essential in ensuring that CLA remains open, and therefore able to evolve.

I think he is worrying too much here. Effectively what CLA does is code these tools into practice through a Max Boisot-like Social Learning Cycle. To take just one example from many in the book, Robert Burke writes,

“The CLA process guided the participants into the realization that addressing their worldview and its underlying myths and metaphors had the promise of finding solutions to those problems.”

My review is here: Curry_CLA20Review_APFCompass_Oct15_Final

CLA 2.0 can be bought through the metafutures website bookstore.

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