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FAST THINKING MAGAZINE

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Australian academic Dr. Jennifer Gidley is the current president of the World Futures Studies Federation, a non government network of practicing futurists from around sixty countries formed in Paris in 1973, on the back of an earlier project, Mankind 2000.

"The idea of futurism is often trivialised," says Gidley. "People tend to think that futurists are either crystal ball gazers/astrologers, or they are high tech, focused on high-tech gadgetry or predicting the future."

But futures research has a more substantial side, she argues. The European brand of futures studies focuses on non-commercial futures as opposed to the dominant and mainly American futures approach, focusing on empirical prediction and corporate futures.

"We're interested in social, cultural and environmental interests and in developing a wide variety of methodologies focusing on research into alternative futures. Regardless of what a trend might be, is this the only way to go? Is the trend, destiny? Or are there other alternatives?"

With a focus on non-corporate, non-commercial futures, Gidley says that the World Futures Studies Federation places emphasis on things that many other futurist groups don't cover.

"The evolution of futures studies needs to parallel the evolution of other ideas in the world. Empirical science is based on the old model of classical Newtonian physics, with its mechanistic view of human nature."

Science has moved on from the idea that the universe – including human beings – is mechanical, Gidley says.

Concepts like quantum physics, or in biology, self-adaptive organisms, all show that existing trends don't necessarily predict outcomes.

"The discipline of futures studies hasn't necessarily kept up with the changes in teaching and thinking in other disciplines," Gidley says.

Various methodologies in futures studies offer alternative models for assessing futures, Gidley says. Drawing on the European critical theory approach to sociology, Critical futures studies make value judgments about impending futures through critique and look at the changes that need to happen to forestall an apparent outcome.

Another model is cultural futures, which questions the dominance of the Western model of development and argues that the American dream of high consumption that has dominated global culture since the advent of television in the 1950s is unsustainable.

"People working through the World Futures Studies Federation include sociologists and political theorists and social psychologists and environmental scientists and they are looking at alternative futures."

- Dr. Jennifer Gidley interviewed as a world-leading futurist by Fran Molloy for Fast Thinking Magazine.
Published, February 2011.

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MINDFOOD MAGAZINE

Dr. Jennifer Gidley, a research fellow at RMIT University in Melbourne, argues for the role futures studies play in the development of a healthy, productive society.

As president of the World Futures Studies
Federation, she illuminates the difference between futurism, which has a long history of predicting utopian scenarios, and futures studies, an academic discipline that combines philosophy, sociology, history and economic theory with real-life observation to propose, for the benefit of society, "not just one kind of future but multiple"…

Gidley is optimistic about such developments. Her early research into futures studies 15 years ago stemmed from an interest in why one in four young Australians were suffering from some form of mental health issue. "It was being strongly linked to hopelessness about the future," Gidley explains.

"What often gets ignored in talking about young people is their psychological perspective… there is a great power in the right conversation with the right person at the right time. A certain thing can sow a seed which can really shift your way of thinking about something," she says.

Gidley… is concerned that the education system stifles play, creativity and imagination. "It goes back 200 years," she explains. "When mass schooling was developed, most people didn't get an education. It was reserved for those going into a religious order or for the very wealthy. Then it was hijacked by the industrial revolution and schooling became about training people for the factories."

This economic model persists today, much to Gidley's consternation. Yet alternative education systems such as the Steiner model and Kura Kaupapa (Maori immersion schools) are gaining support.

There is folly, Gidley explains, in training young children for employment when the jobs of the future are not even imagined today.

She quotes Einstein as reason to address what she sees as a creative crisis. "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Gidley is adamant children [and adults, one suspects] need to 'wake up' to the world around them. "How young people are acculturated today doesn't encourage attentiveness. Kids are becoming more and more distracted. They're not awake. In order to be awake you need to be grounded and aware. This comes through activities like painting or gardening, where you need to be focused on the task."…

Echoing the ideas of Gidley and Raymond, the effervescent Celente lays out the future in simple terms: we are entering the '(a)live' age and we will reject gross materialism and obsessive consumerism. "It is a rediscovery – a rebirth of quality and all that had been best about our society before it denigrated into the worship of the sacred bottom line."

- Dr. Jennifer Gidley interviewed as a world-leading futurist by Nicola Harvey for MINDFOOD Magazine.
Published, January 2011.

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