EU481      Half Unit
The Future: Political Responses to a Challenge

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Jonathan White CBG 7.09


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 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.  Sessions move through the following themes: The Birth of the Future: Utopias in place and time; Sovereignty of the Living?  Constitutional and political horizons; Socialism and the Future; Capitalism and the Future; In the Shadow of War; Debt, Accounting and other Practices of Quantification; Globalising and Privatising the Future: Climate change and generationalism; Planning for Emergency: Anticipation, pre-emption and preparation; In the Age of Algorithms and Tech; Democratising the Future.  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.


This course is delivered through a combination of seminars and lectures. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of recorded remarks, in-person (or, if a School closure demands it, online) workshops, and online seminars, totalling a minimum of 22.5 hours across Lent Term. This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of the Lent Term.  A review session will be held at the start of the Summer Term to prepare for the online assessment.

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.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: European Institute

Total students 2019/20: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Controlled access 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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