Big History and Futures Studies – what a cosmic perfect match!

I’ve had a new paper accepted for a special issue of the SAGE journal World Futures Review, on Foresight Education, edited by Peter Bishop. It is yet to be assigned to a volume/issue (UPDATE: it is most likely to be Vol.10, No. 4, Dec 2018), but has had a formal DOI assigned to it to allow for web linking prior to final publication, and is available through SAGE’s OnlineFirst system. I am also allowed to link a version from my University’s research repository, Swinburne ResearchBank. It is an accepted manuscript form, which SAGE allows to be placed in a university repository, rather than the final officially-published version, which they do not. Always look to the pagination of the final published version if you are going to be quoting things from it…

The (current) citation information is:

Voros, J 2018, ‘Big History as a scaffold for Futures education’, World Futures Review, vol.10, No.4, Dec, in press. Special Issue: ‘Foresight Education’, P Bishop (ed.). doi:10.1177/1946756718783510. Swinburne RB:

The Abstract is as follows:

This paper does several things. Firstly, it reports on some of the history of the Master of Strategic Foresight (MSF) at Swinburne (2001-2018) to provide some background information that, it is hoped, may be useful for others seeking to create or develop under- and post-graduate foresight courses in the future. Secondly, it also describes some observations made during the early years of the MSF regarding some of the characteristics of the students undertaking it – as compared to other non-foresight students also undertaking comparable-level postgraduate studies – which had a bearing on how we designed and revised the MSF over several iterations, and which, it is similarly hoped, may also be useful for foresight course designers of the future. Thirdly, it notes that the introduction of “Big History” in 2015 at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels seems to have engendered a somewhat easier “uptake” of futures/foresight thinking by those students who were introduced to it, in contrast to cohorts of comparable students in previous years who were not. It is speculated that the Big History perspective was an important factor in this, and some related writings by other academics supporting this conjecture are sketched. It is then argued that, in particular, Big History seems to be especially well-suited to the framing of global-scale/civilizational futures. Finally, a number of remarks are made about how and why I believe Big History provides an ideal basis for engendering futures/foresight thinking, especially with regard to global/civilizational futures, as noted, as well as for framing The Anthropocene.

This paper forms another (very likely the last) in a sequence about the life history of the MSF, which is due to shut down at the end of this year. Earlier papers can be found linked from Richard Slaughter’s professional web site at: 

The most recent paper before the one cited above is linked at the bottom of the above web page – it is a review of the (up to then) 16 years of the MSF at Swinburne, by Peter (Captain Foresight”) Hayward and myself, done at Richard’s request. At the end of that paper, I remarked on the way that Big History seems to have been an amazingly effective way to instill futures thinking into students, who seemed to “take” to futures thinking much more easily as a result of having had an introduction to Big History. The new paper extends this discussion with some further reflections, while also seeking to set down for posterity some more observations about the 18-year run of the MSF and the students who undertook it.

The paper winds up with the following observation:

in recent years, in both public outreach and professional talks, I have come to regard and portray Big History and Futures Studies as a “cosmic perfect match” – a “multidisciplinary marriage of timely moment” between multi-disciplines perfectly suited to the sense making and action which we humans need to undertake at this critical time in the history of our civilization, our species and our planet … Therefore, may the children of the (hopefully fecund!) marriage of Big History and Futures Studies be engendered with all of the virtue, wisdom and foresight that our species now desperately needs so much, so urgently, and in such measure….

Near the close of the Introduction, it says:

the comments and remarks made herein are intended as precursor observations that, I sincerely hope, may be useful in framing or encouraging further research into how futures thinking might be more practically encouraged to emerge in students of all ages, through utilizing Big History as a “scaffold” for futures education.

And this is the primary motivation for the paper – that this cosmic perfect match of timely moment be encouraged and supported through any and all means – including, as one possibility, some none-too-subtle “matchmaking” on the part of educators, both in Big History and in Futures Studies.

I hope it is both useful and enjoyable to read.

Main image: the “lines” of Big History (a metaphor from the Big History Project married with the Futures Cone (a metaphor from Futures Studies,  discussed elsewhere on this blog)


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