Not available in 2019/20
EU481      Half Unit
The Future: Political Responses to a Challenge

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Jonathan White COW 1.09


This course is available on the MSc in Comparative Politics, MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe, MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe (LSE & Sciences Po), MSc in Global Europe: Culture and Conflict (LSE & Sciences Po), MSc in Global Politics, MSc in Political Economy of Europe, MSc in Political Economy of Europe (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in Political Sociology and MSc in Public Policy and Administration. 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.

Formative coursework

  • One 2000-word essay, written in response to two of eight questions.  This timed assessment will be administered via Moodle.
  • A class presentation, on which students will receive one-to-one feedback.

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: Stanford UP).

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

• 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).

• Forrester, K. and S. Smith (eds) (2018), Nature, Action and the Future: Political Thought and the Environment (Cambridge: CUP).

• 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 65 (4).



Online assessment (100%) in the ST.

The online assessment for this course will be administered via Moodle.  A review session will take place in Week 1 of the ST in preparation for this assessment.  Assessment questions will be made available via Moodle in Week 2 of the ST.  Students will answer 2 of 8 questions.  Answers to questions will be submitted in Week 5 of the ST.

Key facts

Department: European Institute

Total students 2018/19: 36

Average class size 2018/19: 18

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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