Futures research and semiotics: Exploring futures metaphors through the lens of causal layered analysis

Toni Ahlqvist

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference articleScientific


Futures research is an interdisciplinary field of study which analyses futures options and emerging issues from different angles by using different methods. It is commonly stressed that the actual object of analysis is not "the future" as such, but, instead, the aim is to open up a set of present views towards the futures, focusing on alternative futures and assessment of potentials and likelihoods of different aspects in these alternatives. Traditional methods in futures research emphasise wide participation of actors and usually aim towards consensus. However, it could also be argued that this consensus tendency is a methodological problem. This is because the results of the futures processes tend to cluster into artificial consensus positions that usually have strong biases towards existing power structures. Thus it is fairly common that the alternative futures, not to speak of deeper ideological and cultural trajectories that affect the positions, are not actually opened or their potential impacts are not understood.The paper explores the possibility of developing more culturally informed futures research approaches that could have wider analytical registers than in the traditional consensus approaches, and could also be useful in unravelling the different cultural dimensions of futures arguments. Hence, the paper discusses the connections of futures research and semiotics in the context of a method called causal layered analysis (CLA). CLA is concerned with "opening up the present and past to create alternative futures" and emphasises the "vertical dimension of futures studies, of layers of analysis" (Inayatullah 1998: 815). The layers of analysis in CLA are: (1) the litany; the banal information circulating, for example, in everyday news and media; (2) the social, economic, cultural, political and historical factors; usually interpretations given to quantitative trend data by e.g. research institutes; (3) the structure, discourse, and worldview; the "actor-invariant" cultural structures that have constitutive power in societal interaction; (4) the metaphor and myth; this level is about "deep stories, the collective archetypes, the unconscious dimensions of the problem or the paradox" (Inayatullah 1998: 820); the level is usually mediated through visual images and actuates primarily in the sphere of emotions. To flesh out the argument, the paper also presents selected examples of futures metaphors collected from various sources.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Event1st International Congress of Numanities: ICoN - Kaunas, Lithuania
Duration: 2 Jun 20147 Jun 2014


Conference1st International Congress of Numanities: ICoN
Abbreviated titleICoN


  • future research
  • semiotics
  • metaphors
  • causal layered analysis


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