2021-06-01 - 2022-08-31 | Research area: Sustainability Research
My project examines a major epistemic and imaginative technique through which North Atlantic institutions now perceive and govern the turbulent globe as a totality: “scenario planning.” Scenario planning is a central method of post-statistical futurology, premised on imaginative narrative rather than the extrapolation of probable trends. Developed by multinational oil companies during the energy crises of the 1970s, and later adopted as a tool for the governance of the planetary environment amidst global warming, scenario planning is today a central method of foreknowledge through which North Atlantic states, corporations, and institutions of international governance systematically envision the plausible futures of the planet, and the possibilities and consequences of their own actions within those futures. Beginning from the anthropological premise that such techniques of anticipatory knowledge are not value-neutral tools but historically and culturally specific genres for envisioning and ordering collective existence, my project asks how scenario planning enframes the politics of planetary sustainability today. My research will explore the logic of global-scale scenario planning through examination of two critical cases: (1) its cultivation at Royal Dutch Shell in the 1970s, under the influence of cybernetic theory and global decolonization, and (2) its contemporary deployment in the making of the Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. By examining the work of scenario planners through archival and ethnographic research, I mean to elucidate the political significance of the epistemological and imaginative techniques that underpin global sustainability governance in a warming and unequal world.