Not available in 2017/18
EU481      Half Unit
The Future: Political Responses to a Challenge

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Jonathan White COW 1.09


This course is available on the MSc in Comparative Politics, MSc in Global Europe: Culture and Conflict, MSc in Global Europe: Culture and Conflict (LSE & Sciences Po), MSc in Global Politics and MSc in Political Sociology. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

The future is unknowable, but it can be made intelligible.  It raises practical and conceptual problems, as well as reasons for conflict, but also promises to resolve contradictions.  This course examines how the future is conceptualised in salient domains of contemporary politics, the implications arising for theory and practice, and the contestable assumptions on which perspectives rely.  It investigates the methods by which the future is ordered, anticipated, and factored into the practice of government.  

The course begins historically, looking at the future as an emerging theme in eighteenth-century European Enlightenment thought, the socio-cultural developments that prompted this, and some of the key features of its thematisation in the high-modern period.  It goes on to examine future-oriented ideas, ideologies and practices as they arise in contemporary settings.  The three fields of administration, economy and society are considered in turn.  Amongst the areas examined are: the changing time horizons of political institutions; risk analysis and emergency planning; state budgeting; debt and accumulation; demographic forecasting; climate change and sustainability; the contested rights of future generations; and the preservation of cultural heritage.  The course should provide students with a cross-disciplinary grasp of how present-day public affairs are shaped by the ways the future is conceived and acted upon.


20 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

As with my other courses, I will use the two-hour lecture/seminar format, leading discussion in the first half and facilitating discussion in the second.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay and 1 presentation in the LT.

One 2000-word essay, written in response to one of eight questions, made available 24 hours before the submission deadline.

Students will receive one-to-one feedback on their class presentation.

Indicative reading

Nowotny, H. (2016), The Cunning of Uncertainty (Cambridge: Polity).

• Adam, B. & C. Groves (2007), Future Matters: Action, Knowledge, Ethics (Leiden: Brill).

• Innerarity, D. (2012), The Future and its Enemies (Stanford).

• Beckert, J. (2016), Imagined Futures: Fictional expectations and capitalist dynamics (Harvard).

• González-Ricoy, I. & A. Gosseries (2016), Institutions for Future Generations (Oxford: OUP).

• Koselleck, R. (2004), Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (NY: Columbia).

• Thompson, D. (2010), ‘Representing future generations: political presentism and democratic trusteeship’, Critical Review of International Social & Political Philosophy 13 (1).

• Andersson, J. (2012), ‘The Great Future Debate and the Struggle for the World’, American Historical Review 117 (5).

• Urry, J. (2016), What is the Future? (Polity).

• White, J. (2017), ‘Climate Change and the Generational Timescape’, Sociological Review.

Although questions to do with the future are to some degree ‘eternal’, they are increasingly thematised in a range of disciplines, including political philosophy, political economy, history and environmental studies.  There are also works that seek to make connections across these diverse domains.  The above list gives an indication of works to be included.   


Take home exam (100%) in June.

One 2000-word essay, written in response to one of eight questions, made available 24 hours before the submission deadline.

Key facts

Department: European Institute

Total students 2016/17: Unavailable

Average class size 2016/17: Unavailable

Controlled access 2016/17: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication