EU481      Half Unit
The Future: Political Responses to a Challenge

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Marta Lorimer


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 & Columbia), MSc in Culture and Conflict in a Global Europe (LSE & Sciences Po), MSc in Political Economy of Europe, MSc in Political Economy of Europe (LSE and Fudan) , MSc in Political Economy of Europe (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in Political Science (Conflict Studies and Comparative Politics), MSc in Political Science (Global Politics), 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.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access). In previous years we have been able to provide places for all students that apply but that may not continue to be the case.

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.


20 hours of seminars in the Winter Term. This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of Winter Term.

A 2-hour review session will be held at the start of the Spring Term.

Formative coursework

  • One 1,500 word unassessed essay.
  • A 10-12 minute 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: 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).


Exam (100%, duration: 2 hours) in the spring exam period.

The summative assessment will take the form of an e-exam in the Spring Term. E-exams are assessments run under invigilated exam conditions on campus. Students will complete the assessment using software downloaded to their personal laptops.

Key facts

Department: European Institute

Total students 2022/23: 28

Average class size 2022/23: 14

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

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