Urban Futures: Imagining and Activating Possibilities in Unsettled Times

bilateral project

The future influences the present just as much as the past, Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out more than a century ago. This fact is currently demonstrated in movements searching for a better future as well as in global, European, national, and local developmental strategies. Even though the future has historically not been an explicit focus of ethnological/anthropological research, grassroots appeals to the future have recently inspired a shift in disciplinary focus.

This project is dedicated to in-depth research of future-making in selected Slovenian and Croatian cities. Future-making refers to a comprehensive understanding of elements which are combined in imagining, anticipating and perceiving futures – cognitively, discursively, and affectively – as well as in modalities of everyday life and engagement that contain a particular relationship towards futures. “Future” as a (novel) object of study in ethnological/cultural anthropological terms is considered culturally and contextually dependant. Together with the notions of probabilities and possibilities which are immanent to future, it sets the stage for researching multiple urban futures – desired and undesired, official and alternative, supported and resisted, contested, challenged, as well as invisible, “silenced”, or “stolen”.

The process of urban future-making will be analysed from top-down (strategic documents and visions of particular cities) and bottom-up (civil associations and initiatives) perspectives, as well as from individual/personal perspectives (experiences, expectations, practices, particularly of young people). The project is firmly grounded in ethnography and discourse analysis. It is structured around three axes of research: public space (future-oriented spatial-social urban projects and their potential to enhance social integration, inclusion, health, and wellbeing for urban citizens); creativity and innovations (creative hubs developed by various actors to build and promote good practices, education, and social engagement envisioning futures); and civic participation (diverse ways in which citizens enact “the right to the city”, contributing to current debates on effective urban governance as a prerequisite of liveable and sustainable urban futures).

The project team consists of ten researchers – five researchers from each country – with an established history of collaboration. Combining their expertise, the project seeks to establish a wider network for comparative ethnological/cultural anthropological (urban) futures research. It will demonstrate that globally small, marginal, and “ordinary” cities, such as those in Slovenia and Croatia, represent a challenging site for urban futures research and contribute to advancing in urban studies theory. By being the first mid-term bilateral cooperation between Slovenian and Croatian ethnologists/anthropologists since the countries’ independence, it is also expected to strengthen cross-border academic collaboration, orient ethnology/anthropology in both countries towards studying futures and position them on the global map of futures research.

Project steps

Literature review: existing research, concepts, approaches, methodologies, trends.

Discursive analysis: strategic documents, media publications, everyday discourse.

Fieldwork: an ethnography of selected cities, cross-border research, student fieldwork.

Dissemination: communication channels (website, social networks), project presentation at public events, round tables with urban experts and other actors, exhibition, cooperation with a festival of scientific significance, conference panels and lectures, closing conference, scientific articles, monograph, university subject curriculum, recommendations for urban policies, agenda for crossborder research centre for urban futures.