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This article contributes to emerging hybrid design/futures practices by offering an orienting framework making images of the future more legible and concrete. The Ethnographic Experiential Futures (EXF) Cycle provides, practically, a way of inviting engagement with diverse participants, and methodologically, a generic process drawing on two traditions of foresight (ethnographic and experiential futures), with a view to promoting a more diverse and deeper array of scenarios for public consideration. The structure of the EXF Cycle is derived from hybrid efforts carried out by design/futures practitioners over some years, abstracted as scaffolding to serve future projects in a wide range of contexts. This piece first appeared in 2019 in the Journal of Futures Studies special double issue on Design and Futures <>, and was later republished in The Knowledge Base of Futures Studies <>.
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Journal of Futures Studies, March 2019, 23(3): 3–22
Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to
Ethnographic Experiential Futures
Stuart Candy
Carnegie Mellon University
Kelly Kornet
This article contributes to emerging hybrid design/futures practices by offering an orienting framework making
images of the future more legible and concrete. The Ethnographic Experiential Futures (EXF) Cycle provides, prac-
tically, a way of inviting engagement with diverse participants, and methodologically, a generic process drawing on
two traditions of foresight (ethnographic and experiential futures), with a view to promoting a more diverse and deep-
er array of scenarios for public consideration. The structure of the EXF Cycle is derived from hybrid efforts carried
out by design/futures practitioners over some years, abstracted as scaffolding to serve future projects in a wide range
of contexts.
Keywords: Action Research, Design Fiction, Ethnography, Experiential Futures, Integral Futures, Intermediary
Knowledge, Scenarios, Speculative Design.
“The image must rst be received before it can be broadcast.”
Frederik L. Polak, The Image of the Future.
“The future is inside us / It’s not somewhere else.”
Radiohead, “The Numbers”.
Just south of Sarnia, Ontario (pop. 70,000), the largest city on Lake Huron, is a place called Chemical
Valley. It is home to forty per cent of the petrochemical industry for the whole of Canada (Vice, 2013) –– a
nation of 35 million –– and also to the worst air quality in the country (MacDonald & Rang, 2007). The areas
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adjacent to such industrial hotspots, called “sacrifice zones” or “fence-line communities” (Bullard,
2005, p. 85), are typically populated by less politically influential groups; the socioeconomically
disadvantaged; people of colour; indigenous communities.
Kelly Kornet, a researcher who had grown up nearby, wanted to gain an understanding of
the thinking and motivations of environmental activists from places like Chemical Valley; “how
individuals living in conditions of environmental toxicity develop the ability to imagine possible
futures and take positive action in their communities.” (Kornet, 2015, p. 3) In one-on-one
interviews, participants were invited to speak about the kinds of futures that they expected, hoped
for, and feared. That stage alone may have sufficed for some valuable forms of traditional analysis,
but for this project Kornet was interested in opening up the issues to a wider audience, and as a
trained designer, in animating these narratives with the skills at her disposal. So once articulated
verbally, participants’ divergent futures were materialised in a selection of future artifacts as if they
had actually come to pass. This meant creating props, as it were, from the movies in their minds:
the industrial accident that they worried could occur at the plant; the laws that they hoped local
authorities would properly enforce to restore air and water quality (see Image 1). These were shared
at a small exhibition in Toronto, Causing an Effect, to which research collaborators and the general
public were both welcomed and invited to respond (Kornet, 2015).
Here the designer served a dual role: as a futures researcher eliciting detailed narratives from
participants, and as a kind of translator or medium, strategically reifying their thinking and concerns
into experiential scenarios so that they could be seen, felt, and talked about more readily. The first
stage brought futures to light; the next brought them to life.
This combination seemed to warrant further exploration. Regarded structurally, the phases of
Causing an Effect recalled another experiential futures project from years before, albeit one quite
dissimilar at first glance; an exploration of futures for Chinatown in Honolulu, Hawaii. Possibilities
for the neighbourhood were canvassed initially through conversations with local residents –– for
example, a seldom publicly-expressed anxiety about impending gentrification (see Image 2) –– and
brought to life via ‘artifacts from the future’ mounted in situ for residents to encounter in the present
(Candy, 2010, pp. 228ff). It soon became apparent that still other projects, conceived in different
circumstances, had followed much the same arc. The contours of a possible framework began to
emerge; something that might be applied for different kinds of participants, modes of design, and
contexts of deployment.
The process we describe has the potential to advance and mobilise in new ways a proposition
pursued by critical and academic futurists for decades, that the future must be pluralised (Boulding,
1988; Slaughter, 1998; Hurley, 2008), which “opens it up for envisioning and creating alternative
futures to the status quo” (Gidley, 2017, p. 44).
What has changed lately, with the ‘experiential turn’ in the 2000s (Candy & Dunagan, 2016),
is that foresight’s efforts to map images of the future has begun to be systematically articulated to
a full array of strategies for mediating them, and designers are increasingly exploring futures in the
plural as well (Candy, 2010; Dunne & Raby, 2013; Yelavich & Adams, 2014; Selin, 2015; Candy &
Dunagan, 2017; Escobar, 2018). These developments open promising new avenues for attempting
complex collective acts of empathy, conversation, and deliberation in the public sphere.
This article describes the shape and rationale of what we have dubbed Ethnographic Experiential
Futures (EXF), a pattern discerned in multiple projects undertaken over time by futurists, designers,
and researchers. We distill a framework meant to serve as a set of prompts for adaptation and use in
still more diverse investigations to come.
The body of this article is in four parts. The first locates the work in relation to some key
elements of futures literature and practice. The second sketches a set of examples, each a fragment
of the initial basis for the framework. The third plots the phases of the framework drawn from these
cases. Finally, we discuss some opportunities and difficulties that EXF presents.
Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to Ethnographic Experiential Futures
I. Images of the Future
Critical futures scholarship argues that ‘the future’ does not exist as such, but is inherently a
domain of ideation and imagination. It “cannot be experienced directly, but only though images,
thoughts, feelings and the multiple ways these are subsequently expressed in the outer world”
(Slaughter, 2018, p. 444). Sociologists Barbara Adam and Chris Groves capture the challenge
well: “[E]ngagement with the future is an encounter with a non-tangible and invisible world that
nevertheless has real and material consequences” (Adam & Groves, 2007, p. xv). Accordingly a
central challenge for futures consists in ‘making the invisible visible and tangible.’
The concept of ‘images of the future’, a kind of mental and cultural construct influential in the
unfolding of history, was proposed by sociologist Fred Polak years before futures began to coalesce
as a field (Polak, 1973 [1955]), and it has provided part of the foundation on which generations of
scholars and practitioners have worked since.
As Dator observes: “These images often serve as the
basis for actions in the present. … Different groups often have very different images of the future.
… [O]ne of the main tasks of futures studies is to identify and examine the major alternative futures
which exist at any given time and place” (Dator, 2005).
In the mid-1970s Robert Textor, a younger associate of the great Margaret Mead, and a self-
described sociocultural anthropologist and futurist (Textor, 2003, p. 521) based at Stanford
University, began to turn attention in this direction. Textor pioneered anticipatory anthropology, “the
use of anthropological knowledge and ethnographic methods, appropriately modified and focused,
to anticipate change” (Textor, 1985, p. 4). He saw its value in terms of confronting a pair of more or
less ubiquitous ills: ethnocentrism refers to one’s being excessively centred in one’s own culture,
and tempocentrism to one’s being excessively centred in one’s own timeframe.” (Textor in Mead,
2005, pp. 16-17, emphasis added). Ethnocentrism is more widely recognised – its web search results
dwarf those of tempocentrism by three orders of magnitude
but the latter represents at least as
pervasive a psychological and cultural pathology.
Ethnographic Futures Research, developed by Textor and his students, is a valuable if today
often overlooked methodological entryway into this challenging space, offering a process for
systematically mapping images of the future held by various individuals and communities. “Just
as the cultural anthropologist conventionally uses ethnography to study an extant culture, so the
cultural futures researcher uses EFR to elicit from members of an extant social group their images
and preferences (cognitions and values) with respect to possible or probable future cultures for
their social group.” (Textor, 1980, p. 10) A semi-structured interview format is used to draw out
participants’ projections. “Instead of simply asking ‘What do you believe is going to happen?’, in
EFR you ask: ‘Within the context of overall trends and possibilities as you perceive them, what
potential changes in your sociocultural system do you (1) want, (2) fear, and (3) expect?” (Veselsky
& Textor, 2007, pp. 31-32).
Textor is careful not to be misunderstood as positing a singular future (Textor, 1980, p. 10), and
in this he underlines the ontological and epistemological pluralism of the field. Indeed it is a key
tenet of EFR, and of the futures tradition we are working in, that every person contains multitudes.
Relatedly, we put the EXF Cycle forward in a spirit of methodological pluralism: EFR’s version
of ethnography for studying futures is useful, but is not set on a pedestal as the best or only way to
do so. Only two of the five cases outlined below use that particular approach.
Thus EFR is one way to try rendering people’s futures ‘visible’ in words. But what happens
when we take the challenge of making particular futures ‘tangible’ seriously? It is this challenge that
leads to the concatenation of ‘ethnographic’ inquiry with experiential futures.
Experiential Futures (XF) is a family of approaches for making futures visible, tangible,
interactive, and otherwise explorable in a range of modes. Led by practice and accompanied by
a growing theoretical base,
XF is grounded in the big-picture agenda of contributing to a social
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capacity for foresight (Slaughter, 1996), using material and performative registers to build on the
field’s traditional uses of theoretical, schematic and verbal exploration (Candy, 2010; Raford, 2012;
Kelliher & Byrne, 2015; Selin, 2015). The turn to experience, as a canvas for futures practice,
prods at a traditional overreliance in the field on words, and corresponding underutilisation of other
media (Ramos, 2006), disclosing a transmedia landscape of alternative ways to use the future. More
embodied and media-rich depictions of futures, argue proponents, can make the field more effective
in shaping change (Candy, 2010; Candy & Dunagan, 2017). The practitioners and projects of XF
are highly intertwined with those of design-led futures-oriented activities which have come into
prominence over the same period, since the mid-2000s, including speculative design and design
fiction (Dunne & Raby, 2013; Montgomery & Woebken, 2016; Durfee & Zeiger, 2017; Candy &
Dunagan, 2017). Yet the task of enhancing futures thinking is medium-agnostic –– the best approach
is whatever it takes (Candy, 2010, p. 111) –– and so Experiential Futures exhibits great variety in
terms of the media and engagement strategies used. This can be seen in the examples described in
Section II.
II. Five Projects
This section outlines in broad strokes a diverse set of projects that share structural resemblances
in combining ‘ethnographic’ and ‘experiential’ elements.
Project 1: Causing an Effect
Kelly Kornet worked with lifelong environmental activists from fence-line communities, using
EFR interviews to explore their hoped for, feared and expected futures, and subsequently applying
design skills to fabricate physical artifacts ‘from’ the futures they described (e.g., Image 1). The
resulting exhibition let her gather responses from some original participants, as well as from a wider
public (Kornet, 2015).
Image 1. Artifact from a participant’s preferred future, where local environmental regulations maintain air and
water quality more effectively / Design & Photo: Kelly Kornet
Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to Ethnographic Experiential Futures
Project 2: FoundFutures (Chinatown)
In the mid 2000s, futurists Stuart Candy and Jake Dunagan ran a series of informal experiments
deploying ‘future artifacts’ to the public on an unsolicited basis. They called the approach ‘guerrilla
futures’ by analogy with guerrilla theatre, marketing, art, and semiotics (Candy, 2010, pp. 208-
257). Initial gestures such as ‘droplifting’ future products into local shops (Candy, 2007) paved the
way to FoundFutures: Chinatown, a more systematic effort to bring futures to life at the scale of a
community; Honolulu’s Chinatown, on Oahu, Hawaii. Bringing backgrounds in anthropology and
theatre, they orchestrated artifact deployments and enactments from a series of imaginaries for the
neighbourhood, grounded in the particulars of place and history. The set of scenarios was generated
after interviewing area residents and business-owners, and then translated into urban installations
and happenings (Dunagan & Candy, 2007).
Image 2. Part of an experiential scenario about gentrification in Honolulu’s Chinatown / Project directors:
Stuart Candy and Jake Dunagan / Artwork: Mark Guillermo / Photo: Matthew Stits
Gentrification concerns were dramatised through signage heralding the (then-unprecedented)
arrival of American franchises such as Starbucks and TGI Fridays, and luxury apartments (see
Image 2). Another intervention, inspired by the outbreaks of bubonic plague in Chinatown in the
early 20th century, hypothesised an epidemic of “Hang Ten” flu. A third posed the question: what
becomes of Chinatowns in a future where China is the preeminent superpower? Reactions were
registered via direct observation, as well as in the press, and at a free community workshop (Dunagan
& Candy, 2007).
Project 3: Making the Futures Present
Designer and interactive narrative professor Maggie Greyson has developed a framework for
‘personal experiential futures’ to help people more concretely picture their possible future selves
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and circumstances, drawing partly on EFR and partly on ‘personal futures’ practice (Wheelwright,
2009; Draudt & West, 2016).
The process entails interviewing volunteer participants one on one about a range of scenarios
they can imagine facing on a 20-year time horizon in their own lives; positive, negative, and
expected, and then ‘unexpected’, too. Not part of EFR’s descriptive protocol, the latter is added to
probe, challenge or expand prospective thinking. In the same session, researcher and participant
co-create rapid prototypes from selected futures (see Image 3), and afterwards the host goes on to
develop more polished, real-looking artifacts as a basis for deeper conversation at their next meeting
(Greyson, 2016).
Image 3. Rapid prototyping of ‘personal experiential futures’ artifacts / Project design & Photo: Maggie
Project 4: 1-888-FUTURES
A series of day-long participatory design workshops was staged by researchers from Situation
Lab and The Extrapolation Factory in the mid-2010s.
Hosted at the University of Southern
California’s School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles, 1-888-FUTURES solicited public input in
the weeks prior by inviting people to call a toll-free number and record their future dream in a
voicemail, together with a mailing address (Situation Lab, 2015).
On the day, workshop participants were assigned a random voicemail to retrieve as the basis for
a ‘tangibilisation’ (Chris Woebken’s excellent word) of the dream. (See Image 4.) The makers then
recorded a video explaining how the dream recording had inspired their ‘future present’, and boxed
it up to send to the provided address. Afterwards, on social media, some recipients would post
responses to the artifact they had opened.
Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to Ethnographic Experiential Futures
Image 4. Design jam participants ponder how to bring voicemail-recorded dreams to life / Project design:
Extrapolation Factory and Situation Lab / Photo: Stuart Candy
Project 5: Futureproof
Conor Holler is a management consultant with a background in improvisational comedy, who
undertook a design project to research how it can be used for more serious purposes. ‘Improv’ is
a long standing theatrical tradition (Johnstone, 1981; Halpern, Close & Johnson, 1994) recently
fashionable among businesses seeking to enhance their creativity (Kulhan & Crisafulli, 2017).
Holler devised an improv format which put topic experts and actors together in front of a live
audience, to create scenes from ‘possible futures’. Futureproof explores improv’s potential
to contribute positively to futures practice, with XF work serving as its main conceptual and
methodological reference point” (Holler, 2017, p. 3).
The guest expert in genetics, for instance, is invited onstage to describe how genetic
technologies might figure in everyday life a generation from now (see Image 6). The host and actors
ask some questions, then the players improvise a series of scenes from futures inspired and informed
by the opening, for both audience and expert to react to.
Journal of Futures Studies
Image 5. Conor Holler introduces the guest expert and performers at the premiere of Futureproof, Bad Dog
Theatre, Toronto / Photo: Stuart Candy
Though disparate these examples share a kind of structure under the surface. In a sense, they
could have been formulated by attending to the phases set out in the next section.
III. Surfacing a Structure
Ethnographic Experiential Futures (EXF) emerged from the cases outlined above, initially using
Causing an Effect as a model. The steps taken there were:
1. The researcher maps her collaborators’ images of the future through one-on-one semi-
structured interviews.
2. The researcher draws from the interviews to mediate some concrete experiential expression
of scenaric ideas in them.
3. Realising the opportunity to make these images accessible to a wider audience and create
space for dialogue, she shares or mounts the experiential scenario for people to encounter.
This workflow appears in Figure 1.
Figure 1. A preliminary outline of the generic sequence of phases for Causing an Effect.
Some projects added scenarios alongside those described by participants, when researchers
wanted to expand the set available for consideration (FoundFutures; Making the Futures Present).
In support of a more comprehensive discourse, the researcher may introduce, or co-create, some
alternative future(s) to extend, challenge, diversify, or in a word multiply those originally described.
Pluralising or multiplying futures being an important structural feature of foresight work, here
it is an optional phase between mapping and mediating participants’ thinking, hence the modified
outline in Figure 2.
Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to Ethnographic Experiential Futures
Figure 2. Our picture of the generic process evolved after noticing an often valuable, but optional, stage
At a glance now, the three (or four) phases describe an arc from narrative elicitation to
experiential expression, and could appear complete. But these projects, in contrast to much
speculative design/design fiction, specifically attempt to gauge impact.
The researcher gathers or, once again, maps feedback and responses arising from the
With this follow-up visit to the inner landscape of futures thinking, taking stock of how it has
been (perhaps) changed, perturbed or deepened by the intervention, the process circles back to the
first stage. Now it may be summarised as follows:
: Inquire into and record people’s actual or existing images of the future (probable;
preferred; non-preferred; a combination).
Multiply: Generate alternative images (scenarios) to challenge or extend existing
thinking (optional, especially in rst iteration).
Mediate: Translate these ideas about the future/s into experiences; tangible, immersive,
visual or interactive representations.
Mount: Stage experiential scenario/s to encounter for the original subject/s or others, or
: Investigate and record responses.
This recasts the shape from an arc into a loop or cycle (Figure 3). In principle, it could be
repeated any number of times: a first iteration might document anchoring narratives such as those
that EFR seeks to capture, while subsequent rounds could challenge or revise them.
Figure 3. The EXF Cycle
Across diverse goals, media and contexts, a range of projects can be described in terms of the
EXF Cycle despite their not having been created using it. Table 1 shows how the architecture of
each project reflects the phases identified.
Soon after sharing the draft framework at the Design/Develop/Transform Conference in
Brussels (Candy & Kornet, 2017), we encountered a humanitarian activist initiative about girls in
Syrian refugee camps being supported in imagining their own futures (Hutchison, n.d.). Vision Not
Victim had originated in entirely different circumstances tied to neither the futures field nor design,
Journal of Futures Studies
Table 1. Five projects broken into EXF phases
(1) Causing an Effect
(Kornet, 2015)
(2) Found Futures:
(Dunagan & Candy, 2007)
(3) Making the Futures
(Greyson, 2016)
(4) 1-888-FUTURES
(Situation Lab, 2015)
(5) Futureproof
(Holler, 2017)
MAP1Elicit images of
the future from
individual activists
using EFR.
Talk to locals and research
neighbourhood history for
relevant leads and resonant
Interview participants
in workshop to elicit
images of the future,
using EFR as a
Public call for brief recordings
of people’s “dreams” (images
of the future); prompted by an
automated voice menu.
Invite a subject matter expert
to describe possible future
scenarios in their area of
expertise (genetics, buildings,
MULTIPLY Step intentionally
Generate a mix of location-
specific future scenarios
addressing different issues
and trajectories identified
as significant for the
Formulate and probe for
an unexpected possible
future as well.
Step intentionally omitted. Actors may be prompted to
inflect the scenes they are about
to play towards different kinds
of scenario, for example, using
Dator’s generic images of the
future (grow, collapse, discipline,
MEDIATE Derive concrete
artifacts from the
described scenarios.
Collaborate with a series of
art/design teams (one per
scenario) to create artifacts,
particularly print matter like
posters and flyers, “from”
the future scenarios.
Create prototype
artifacts from selected
scenario(s) in the same
session in partnership
with the participant;
then go away and make
a higher-resolution
Hold a free design jam where
participants/ makers (a) pick
up a message, (b) fill in a
“packing slip”, and (c) use an
array of provided objects and
construction materials to make
the dream tangible.
Have actors generate a series
of scenes on the fly, responding
to and exploring the expert’s
imaginary, described at the top
of the show.
MOUNT Show the designed
objects in an
exhibition setting.
Stage or “install” the future
artifacts in situ over several
weeks (non-overlapping)
so people in the area have
the chance to stumble
across them in the course of
ordinary life.
Bring in high-res artifact
to next interview.
Have participants/ makers
record a short video as part
of the event, describing
the ‘dream’ voicemail and
showcasing the ‘future present’
made in response; and packing
it up to ship to the address left
in the original voicemail.
In improv (i.e., performance that
is not scripted but rather created
entirely moment-to-moment
onstage), Mediate and Mount are
effectively merged into a single
MAP2Capture responses
from the activist-
participants, as well
as the audience.
Gather reactions via
observation, press
coverage, and a free public
workshop focusing on the
neighbourhood’s futures.
Discuss and capture
participant response to
the high-res artifact.
Note responses posted by
recipients via social media
when their future presents
arrive in the mail.
Seek feedback from both expert
and audience on the futures they
have just witnessed.
Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to Ethnographic Experiential Futures
yet followed the same trajectory (Candy, 2017), underscoring how the structure might genuinely
be useful for traversing a wide project design space. To test out that proposition required sharing it
more broadly, which is what this article is for.
We now turn to situating the framework in more depth, and considering some of its potentials
and hazards.
IV. Discussion
In this section we explore the uses and variations of EXF, but first it will be helpful to locate the
work in a wider context and clarify what we are trying to do.
(a) In relation to futures research
In terms of our primary lens of futures research, we have noted how EXF brings ethnographic
and experiential traditions together, spurred in part by a recently articulated methodological need in
foresight to enable design-driven “circumstances or situations in which the collective intelligence
and imagination of a community can come forth” (Candy & Dunagan, 2017, p. 150).
Foresight scholars often study images of the future that individuals or groups hold (Eckersley,
1997; Hicks, 2002; Hutchinson, 1996; Ono, 2005; Tonn, Hemrick, & Conrad, 2006; Rubin, 2013).
They may use scalable quantitative instruments such as questionnaires and surveys, or more
qualitative and narrative-based approaches such as essays and focus groups.
However, rarely are
these futures expressed in a form other than words.
Conversely, the explorations of possible futures emanating from design tend to give form to
their creators’ own narrative ideas (Dunne & Raby, 2013; Durfee & Zeiger, 2017), whereas EXF
projects incorporate map as well as mediate images of the future, such that the imaginative ‘source
materials’ come from participants, and lead to results quite unlike speculative design’s typical
technology-first provocations.
We mean to invite a considered connection between these two operations that are not usually
thought about in a joined-up way, let alone carried out together.
This work is approximately aligned with the ‘critical and emancipatory’ register identified
by historian Elke Seefried (2014, p. 4), and partakes also of the ‘participatory/prospective’ and
‘integral/holistic’ traditions outlined by Jennifer Gidley (2017, p. 64). However, EXF is perhaps best
described using a typology lucidly set out in recent work by Jose Ramos, as a protocol for ‘futures
action research’ (Ramos, 2017, pp. 825–827). In other words we are not concerned with trying
to establish foreknowledge of what the future will be, but with helping a nascent design/futures
community to extend critical and participatory foresight work into a deeply embodied mode, by
scaffolding processes to more effectively explore the futures thinking of diverse communities, using
design (meant broadly here) to loop from an interior register to an exterior –– thinkable, feelable,
discussable –– one.
Moreover, any project following the EXF Cycle potentially tackles a need highlighted in ‘integral
futures’ scholarship, to span interior and exterior, individual and collective ways of knowing
(Slaughter, 2008).
(b) In relation to design research
Like futures, the design field is also undergoing rapid transformation to better address its
potential to shape change at scale. As Bruce and Stephanie Tharp note in their work on ‘discursive
design’ –– a genus only recently identified, and a term perhaps more apt than speculative design
or design fiction for the various species of project that EXF describes; “If design is going to begin
Journal of Futures Studies
closing the gap between its present and a greater future, the typical designer will be required to
stretch a little more intellectually” (Tharp & Tharp, 2019, p. 19).
In design methodology language, EXF is a framework for ‘research through design’ (Frayling,
1993; Gaver, 2012), noting especially Bill Gaver’s insistence that design “is a generative discipline,
able to create multiple new worlds rather than describing a single existing one. Its practitioners may
share many assumptions about how to pursue it, but equally, they may build as many incompatible
worlds as they wish to live in” (Gaver, 2012, p. 943). One finds a similar orientation in critical
futures, for instance Ashis Nandy’s wonderful notion of the field as “a game of dissenting visions”
(Nandy, 1996, p. 637).
Equally, there are resonances in Liz Sanders and Pieter-Jan Stappers’s description of ‘generative
design research’ as “giv[ing] people a language with which they can imagine and express their ideas
and dreams for future experience. These ideas and dreams can, in turn, inform and inspire other
stakeholders in the design and development process” (Sanders & Stappers, 2012, pp. 8;14).
Thanks to recent conceptual work in interaction design and human-computer interaction
literature, we might characterise the EXF Cycle as an example of ‘intermediary knowledge’ (Höök
& Löwgren, 2012; Dalsgaard & Dindler, 2014; Höök et al., 2015). The framework sits between
the concrete specificity of particular designs (the five projects) and the more abstract register of
theories (such as the question of how images of the future bend the arc of history). Through this lens
the value of EXF comes from forging ‘lateral’ connections among prior projects (e.g. Table 1), in a
variation on the design research approach described by Gaver as the “annotated portfolio” (Gaver,
2012, p. 944), as well as ‘vertical’ connections between these specific cases and the EXF ‘structure’
identified as overarching them, thereby delineating a larger design space (including many more
possible projects), and onward to those higher-order questions of how futures thinking circulates in
communities and influences change. Stated briefly like this, there is the risk of appearing to dispense
too quickly with matters that could take up much more of our attention – but this is precisely the
point: the generative, intermediary knowledge object opens up further fronts of designerly and
scholarly investigation.
It remains for later work to trace connections more fully with the growing design anthropology
literature (Gunn, Otto, & Smith, 2013; Smith et al., 2016); and also with those works presenting
ethnographic (or similar) investigations of particular imaginaries, for example feminist (Schalk,
Kristiansson, & Mazé, 2017) and afrofuturist (Brooks, 2016; Imarisha & brown, 2015). These
worthy endeavours sit at a tangent to our principal aim of extending a resource and invitation to
futures practitioners and designers interested in making real-world forays into the hybrid arena of
experiential futures, by providing handrails and heuristics for orientation and guidance.
What kind of orientation and guidance does EXF provide? We have seen that each stage of
the cycle – Map, Multiply, Mediate, Mount, and Map again admits of wide variation. This may
make for strange juxtapositions but it also points towards the power of a framework intended to be
flexible. The questions one asks at each stage might be quite similar, but the answers could be as
different as their futurist/ designer/ researcher/ participant co-creators see fit.
In this section, then, we suggest how each step can be used to open numerous generative
questions for practitioners, so helping shape the design of these hybrid projects.
(a) Map1
Whose futures are being explored, and why? Are individual, personal-scale mental models
especially of interest, or those of a group or community? If the latter, who speaks for the
community? What are the elicitation strategies – in writing or interview, in person or remotely, with
how much scaffolding and of what kinds? When might existing evidence of future images suffice?
Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to Ethnographic Experiential Futures
Research collaborators in the cases outlined represent multiple demographics: some of the sort
perhaps conventionally orbiting relatively wealthy, Western university-based participatory design
projects and invited subject-matter experts; but alongside the usual suspects are residents of a
traditionally ethnic-minority urban neighbourhood and environmental activists from fence-line and
First Nations communities.
It is exciting to consider how projects to come could partner with and be activated by many
more kinds of stakeholder.
In discussing this Mapping phase, we acknowledge potential objections in some quarters to
the term ‘ethnography’ being used so flexibly –– perhaps less where EFR is deployed than where
imaginative contributions are more rapid or playful. There is a certain license in describing an
improvisational theatre format in terms of ethnography, and although it is beyond our scope to
weigh in on the contested question of what should count as ethnography (Markham, 2018), we
repeat that our aim is to support attempts to animate and embody futures thinking in many contexts.
Ethnographic depth is for us a design parameter; a spectrum to be throttled up and down as
circumstances require, rather than as a fixed boundary to be drawn and policed in the same way at
all times. On the spectrum of depth some projects might be located in the middle ground (FoundFu-
tures), and one starts to see how certain kinds of inquiry (conversation with neighborhood residents
who might not have much time to spare) could be less effective, or practically prohibited, with a
stricter approach. This spectrum view, together with the imperative that format be crafted to fit the
case, comports with our aim of enabling not simply more, but appropriate, activity in this design
space. It might seem strange to say, but rigour or depth are not an unalloyed scholarly good to be
maximized at any cost; they are part of a dynamic project design landscape in which more of one
thing (e.g. time spent with informants) is bound to mean less of something else (e.g. access for
certain participants).
So for initial mapping, EFR could be used, but less formal portals will sometimes be
appropriate, be they voicemails from the public or the ruminations of a subject live onstage. One
method seemingly well suited to mapping futures in projects to come is Causal Layered Analysis
(Inayatullah, 1998), useful for analyzing (Hurley, 2008) and also generating (Kaboli & Tapio, 2018)
in-depth images of the future.
(b) Multiply
Should the initially found images of the future be specifically challenged, diversified and
expanded? And if so, on a first pass, or later –– and in which directions?
To supplement a first set of futures images is an optional variation in the process. One might
omit where the goal is to consider primary ‘extant’ futures (like the activists’ motivating narratives
in Causing an Effect), or where the diversity of the original inputs meets requirements (like the
dozens of voicemails recorded by the public ahead of 1-888-FUTURES).
The key underlying question, often the case in futures practice, is which future stories need to
be told, regardless of how they are arrived at or framed –– ‘surfaced’ from prior thought, co-created
from scratch, or something else.
(c) Mediate
How, where, and when can the future(s) be brought to life? Whose responsibility is it in the
project setup? Might participants be able to manifest their own future concepts directly?
This step is about taking relatively vague ideas or future narratives toward more concrete ones.
As our examples suggest, there are myriad ways to make this move, from hybrid design/research
exhibition, to rapid prototyping, guerrilla art installation, and improv theatre. Techniques and
formats for producing experiential scenarios –– ‘situations’ and ‘stuff from times to come –– are
covered elsewhere; in particular the Experiential Futures Ladder may offer relevant scaffolding for
Journal of Futures Studies
this stage (Kornet, 2015, pp. 67–68; Candy & Dunagan, 2016).
There may seem to be a notion in play that people necessarily need help to bring their futures
thinking to life casting the futurist/designer/researcher as coming to the rescue with superior
representational skills. This is not our assumption. While it may be true in some cases, aside from
the obvious parameter of medium or format for expression, the other central question in the ‘mediate’
step is how collaboration is set up. ‘Design’ responsibility might sometimes be located with the
researchers (as in the artifacts made for FoundFutures and Causing an Effect), or more with
participants (a kind of ‘autoethnographic’ experiential scenario creation is integral to Making the
Futures Present), or with third parties (Futureproof; 1-888-FUTURES).
EXF starts with Mapping because that is where futures work usually starts, and too often,
ends as well. But in some cases direct nonverbal mediation could be a starting point –– such as
hand-drawn (pictoral) images of the future (used by Candy in introductory foresight courses for
designers), or the recent Turkish study of children’s paintings of potential future technologies
(Şeker & Şahin, 2012), or still-life tableaux created on the spot by workshop participants in the
emancipatory theatre practice of Augusto Boal (e.g. “the image of transition” in Boal, 1992, p. 173).
These quick and dirty representations may be more symbolic than diegetic in how they invoke the
future; potentially rich fodder for discussion when ‘mapping’ to close the loop.
(d) Mount
How, when, where and for whom is the experiential scenario made available?
What it means to Mount an EXF project depends on what and how one chooses to Mediate.
These are not neatly separate variables. An improv theatre scene (or Boal tableau) Mediates and
Mounts an experiential scenario all at once; there is literally no distinction. But they are separated
in the framework because in some formats they are intrinsically different design choices, so the
creation of artifacts from a particular future could occur at one point, and be staged for an audience
much later.
Of course the circumstances in which a person ‘meets’ the future can vary considerably –– a
scripted environment like a workshop (Making the Futures Present) is quite different from an
unscripted one like a city street (FoundFutures), or a private one (future presents received in
the mail after 1-888-FUTURES). There may sometimes be a single ‘mounting’ event overlaying
multiple constituencies (Causing an Effect), and capturing the responses of multiple different groups
to a given experiential scenario may be highly illuminating.
(e) Map2
At last, and connected to all of the above, how best to Map responses to the experiential
scenario? Whose responses are in scope? Is there the possibility, or need, to bring different views
into dialogue, and if so how? Are they to be recorded formally or informally; live or online;
privately or with others present; from a captive audience or a parade of passers-by?
A rigorous research approach may call for interviews with the original informants (Causing an
Effect; Making the Futures Present) or a questionnaire filled by an audience (Futureproof). Less
demanding of participants might be direct observation of those having the futures encounter (Found-
Futures), monitoring of public responses online (1-888-FUTURES), or opt-in feedback mechanisms
(like the blackboard prompts inviting visitors’ reactions at Causing an Effect).
The closing of a cycle may be quite another matter from its opening, with the circumstances
of a particular encounter (and thus capture of responses) sometimes being dramatically different
from those at the start. Still, the range of options here, including depth and rigour required, can be
usefully compared to those in ‘Map
Turning Foresight Inside Out: An Introduction to Ethnographic Experiential Futures
This article has offered a pattern for hybrid design/futures projects in a kind of action research
cycle, pairing moves to surface people’s images of the future with moves to deepen the scenarios
in play. In examples shared, agendas vary from academic experimentation to documentary, activist,
and public deliberation purposes, as well as more personal, quasi-therapeutic, and outright playful
Going forward we picture not only cultural and social foresight-oriented projects being
extended, but also uses in more formal and institutional contexts such as businesses, classrooms,
governments, and nonprofits. Some of this has already begun, and can be explored in work to come.
For the most part, the projects seen here circle just once, but if pursued past a preliminary pass,
the learning loop (or feedforward) shape of EXF could let all parties refine and track evolving
images of the future over time. This raises the prospect of supporting social foresight through
ongoing community elaboration and deliberation of alternatives –– for example, tied to a public
election cycle, or to participatory organisational governance. So appears part of the potential for
a pattern structurally echoing action research, experiential learning, and iteration in design (Kolb,
2015; Ramos, 2017; Zimmerman, 2003).
Meanwhile, in navigating the framework details and variations in this setting, we must take
care not to lose sight of the human heart of the matter: people often find it difficult to think about
the future (Tonn et al., 2006), and even in supposedly advanced democracies, often our aspirations
and motivating narratives are not present or legible to one other in any form, let alone in idioms
designed to “create empathy and build understanding for the perspectives of others” (Kornet, 2015,
p. 98), bring the “disruptive energy of laughter” (Holler, 2017, p. viii), or combine “interactive
interviews, deep listening, systems thinking and prototyping together” (Greyson, 2016, p. 143).
To end by recalling our motivation, building on some key ideas of the futures field: the
development of new and compelling ways of turning foresight inside out appears critical if humanity
is to have any chance of developing a distributed social capacity to think ahead; if we hope to
escape our tempocentrism, come to better understand each other, and navigate change together. It
is our hope that, with this intermediary knowledge framework, others will discover variations that
currently cannot be foreseen: We look forward to what a community of EXF experimenters will
The authors wish to express appreciation for the contributions of all collaborating parties in the
projects described, especially Jake Dunagan, Maggie Greyson, Conor Holler, and Helen Kerr. For
valuable comments and conversations thanks also to Anne Burdick, Christian Crews, Dan Lockton,
Jose Ramos, Roger Rouse, Wendy Schultz, Peter Scupelli, and two anonymous peer reviewers.
Stuart Candy
Carnegie Mellon University
1. Polak’s influence is likely underrated (van der Helm, 2005).
2. A google search for ‘ethnocentrism’ returns 3,130,000 results; ‘tempocentrism’ receives 2,040,
and the variant ‘temporocentrism’ has 3,170. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
Journal of Futures Studies
3. We also acknowledge the co-constructed nature of these imaginaries, where the researcher/
designer is involved.
4. The Sceptical Futuryst blog documents the emergence of experiential futures dating back to
5. Situation Lab is run by Stuart Candy and Jeff Watson; The Extrapolation
Factory is run by Elliott Montgomery and Chris Woebken
6. Some trenchant criticism of speculative/critical design work hinges on a perceived lack of
interest, on the part of its makers, in actual as opposed to intended effects (Tonkinwise, 2015).
7. For decades, pioneering futures educator Jim Dator would have incoming futures students each
write two short essays, envisioning their lives, and their communities, 25 years out (Troumbley,
Yim, & Frey, 2011).
8. The collaboration Maono, undertaken with urban youth and artists in Democratic Republic of the
Congo, is a notable exception (Van Leemput, 2015).
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Journal of Futures Studies
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We present a case using Design Fiction to unpack cultural perceptions of future elder care rooted in the Asian context of Singapore. We created two design fictions, addressing the tensions between filial piety and automated care and the controversy of integrating elder care facilities into residential communities. The design fictions took the visual forms of a shopping web page and a petition site and the public were invited to make fictional decisions. Received in total 109 responses, we identify the key tensions and value conflicts and illustrate them through visual narratives. Further, we propose the Asian perspective of positioning relationships as the protagonist in creating elder care design fiction.
... In these approaches, practices are influenced by a mix of various methods (Resnick, 2011); human-centered design brings focus to the user, informing the design through insights gathered from user observation; foresight methods bring in research and analysis of signals of change; and prototyping methods enable materialization of visions and narratives into artefacts and experiential media. Among these methods, 'Ethnographic Futures Research' (Textor, 1980), and 'Ethnographic Experiential Futures' (Candy, 2019) places emphasis on anticipatory anthropology and participatory envisioning activities, which are used to collect individual narratives of the future through interviews and generative workshop activities. Synthesized visions of the futures are then prototyped into artefacts or other mediated experiences to communicate the future experiences for wider discussion. ...
... En un proceso donde la "consiliencia" entre creatividad y razonamiento (Wilson, 1998) es fundamental para trascender barreras y tomar decisiones, los enfoques artísticos y desde el "diseño" (Cross, 2001) ofrecen el potencial de fomentar formas intuitivas, experimentales y menos inhibidas de explorar y representar la dinámica de los sistemas y las posiciones de las personas en estas dinámicas (Curtis, 2009;Curtis et al., 2012;Wiek & Iwaniec, 2014). Así, constituyen una parte integral de la concepción del laboratorio por cuatro razones: i) los enfoques artísticos facilitan la integración y hacen explícitos los aspectos emocionales de la gobernanza ambiental (Curtis et al., 2012;Scheffer et al., 2015); ii) ayudan a materializar y aprehender escenarios imaginados y alternativos (visiones) (Candy & Kornet, 2019) así como a concebir los pasos que podrían conducir a ellos; iii) promueven a trascender las incertidumbres y limitaciones epistémicas del presente y su lógica de "un solo mundo" (Escobar, 2015) que refuerza el statu quo predominante; y iv) los enfoques creativos sirven como puentes para hacer explícitas y fortalecer las conexiones existentes entre las personas, y entre las personas y los elementos naturales (Inwood, 2008;Kagan, 2008;Selman et al., 2010, citado en Heras et al., 2016. En combinación, estas características fomentan diferentes enfoques de aprendizaje que son altamente exploratorios y motivadores (McNaughton, 2004;Flowers et al., 2015, citado en Heras et al., 2016Scheffer et al., 2015) y, lo que es quizás aún más importante, nos permiten participar en discusiones significativas sobre los valores que guían los procesos de gobernanza y cambio al mismo tiempo que ayudan a fundamentarlos en términos de cuidado y preocupación, en lugar de simples hechos objetivos. ...
La naturaleza interrelacionada de las múltiples crisis socioambientales que acechan a América Latina exige una acción colectiva audaz, urgente y creativa. Los problemas perversos que se pueden encontrar interconectando estas crisis caracterizan una necesidad de integración genuina del conocimiento (transdisciplina) que pueda articular y trascender el conocimiento académico por sí solo.
Nowadays, with products and services getting more intelligent and evolving faster, the human-centred design methods, such as Design Thinking, have presented some areas that they can’t cover. Design Thinking takes the rapid feedbacks of users as the substitute for subjective speculation and long-term consideration of designers, which makes the design suitable for solving current problems but relatively short-sighted. In this context, some researchers have begun to explore ways to map out a more permanent, constant values behind products and services, to plan a longer vision of design. In many explorations, we found the concept and method of Futures Thinking to inspire Design for farsighted. With it we can explore and enlarge the future possibilities of design, make design adapt to various futures. On this basis, we carried out researches on what kind of design can reflect the characteristics of Futures Thinking. And, this paper focuses on pointing out the features of this type of design. Through interviews and text deconstruction and reconstruction, this paper summarizes the keywords of the design features on Futures Thinking. It is hoped that the outline and overview of such type of design can contribute to the discussion of design on Futures thinking, so that more people can participate in the dialogue and discussion about the futures, to design the preferable futures.KeywordsFutures thinkingDesign alternativeFeature of design
We present a case using Design Fiction to unpack cultural perceptions of future elder care rooted in the Asian context of Singapore. We created two design fictions, addressing the tensions between filial piety and automated care and the controversy of integrating elder care facilities into residential communities. The design fictions took the visual forms of a shopping web page and a petition site and the public were invited to make fictional decisions. Received in total 109 responses, we identify the key tensions and value conflicts and illustrate them through visual narratives. Further, implied by the Asian perspective of familial relations in care, we propose the positioning of social relationships as the protagonist in creating elder care design fiction. KeywordsDesign fictionElder careCultureFilial pietyRobotAgeing-in-place
Methods and tools to anticipate futures are growing in prominence to guide decision-making under climate change. A research agenda into the steering effects of these processes is growing but has largely ignored how imagined futures impact present-day actions beyond the Global North. This paper presents a case study analysis of anticipatory governance in a highly climate-vulnerable area - West Africa. It examines processes of anticipation through an analytical framework that identifies four distinct approaches to anticipatory governance in terms of their conceptualization of the future, implications for actions in the present, and ultimate aims intended to be realized. The study finds two dominant approaches that appear in hybrid forms which are quite technocratic in character. These hybrids assess probable or plausible futures to inform and build capacities for strategic risk reduction. Many anticipation processes are participatory, but often focus on transferring expert-based knowledge to stakeholders or discussing adaptation options rather than opening up dialogue on what and whose futures to engage with. The paper argues that more plural and critical dialogue is needed in which stakeholders have agency to shape futures and address power imbalances, particularly in these contexts where anticipation relies on western funding and science.
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Exploring immersive theatre as a way to educate audiences and study their perceptions of privacy and technology ethics.
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Ethnographic Experiential Futures (EXF) is a design-driven, hybrid approach to foresight aimed at increasing the accessibility, variety and depth of available images of the future. Presented at Design Develop Transform Conference, Brussels, June 2017. A full peer-reviewed article on EXF has now been published in the Journal of Futures Studies, and is available at
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From the beginning of time, humans have yearned to know what lies ahead. Throughout history our forebears tried to influence and anticipate the future, by sacrifices to the gods, imploring oracles for advice, reading the stars, and more recently through scientific prediction. In this book Jennifer M. Gidley explains how our traditional belief in a single predetermined future has been challenged by quantum physics, and argues that we’ve always had multiple possible futures over which we have infinite control. Considering some of our most burning questions about the nature of the future, Gidley shows how we have learned to study, understand, imagine and create alternative futures.
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This chapter explores parallels between action research and futures studies to suggest approaches to “Futures Action Research (FAR).” I describe links between foresight inquiry and action research, and how futures studies as a field has evolved toward participatory action modalities. I then provide examples of future studies approaches that exemplify what Reason and Bradbury call 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-person approaches to action research. Contemporary issues in the confluence of action research and futures studies are explored to provide two approaches I have developed, the Futures Action Model and Co-creation Cycle for Anticipatory Design. It concludes with a call to further develop a Futures-oriented Action Research that can more directly provide value to both fields.
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For futures studies to impact mainstream culture and contribute to civilisation-scale “social foresight” it must be capable of bridging the “experiential gulf” between abstract possible futures, and life as it is directly apprehended in the embodied present. Some suggestions are offered for core skills and sensibilities to be cultivated by futurists in order to engage the experiential register.
Conference Paper
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How might individuals challenge large-scale forces and work towards preferred futures in their community? Causing an Effect is a futures exhibition and research project that draws from individual foresight, design research, and design fiction to build understanding for activists working in future-minded ways. Seeking to emphasize the work of Canadian and American activists, this project highlights and celebrates these bold citizens in their ability to unearth complex environmental problems that threaten the health and wellbeing of their community. The research aims to generate images of the future, give voice and build empathy for activists, and create a space for strategic conversation around the future of North American industrial communities.
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The great existential challenges facing the human species can be traced, in part, to the fact that we have underdeveloped discursive practices for thinking possible worlds ‘out loud’, performatively and materially, in the register of experience. That needs to change. In this dissertation, a methodology for ‘experiential scenarios’, covering a range of interventions and media from immersive performance to stand-alone ‘artifacts from the future’, is offered as a partial corrective. The beginnings of aesthetic, political and ethical frameworks for ‘experiential futures’ are proposed, drawing on alternative futures methodology, the emerging anti- mediumist practice of ‘experience design’, and the theoretical perspective of a Rancièrian ‘politics of aesthetics’. The relationships between these three domains -- futures, design, and politics -- are explored to show how and why they are coming together, and what each has to offer the others. The upshot is that our apparent binary choice between unthinkable dystopia and unimaginable utopia is a false dilemma, because in fact, we can and should imagine ‘possibility space’ hyperdimensionally, and seek to flesh out worlds hitherto supposed unimaginable or unthinkable on a daily basis. Developed from early deployments across a range of settings in everyday life, from urban guerrilla-style activism to corporate consulting, experiential scenarios do not offer definitive answers as to how the future will look, or even how it should look, but they can contribute to a mental ecology within which these questions may be posed and discussed more effectively than ever before.
In Designs for the Pluriverse Arturo Escobar presents a new vision of design theory and practice aimed at channeling design's world-making capacity toward ways of being and doing that are deeply attuned to justice and the Earth. Noting that most design—from consumer goods and digital technologies to built environments—currently serves capitalist ends, Escobar argues for the development of an “autonomous design” that eschews commercial and modernizing aims in favor of more collaborative and placed-based approaches. Such design attends to questions of environment, experience, and politics while focusing on the production of human experience based on the radical interdependence of all beings. Mapping autonomous design’s principles to the history of decolonial efforts of indigenous and Afro-descended people in Latin America, Escobar shows how refiguring current design practices could lead to the creation of more just and sustainable social orders.
Images of the future represent fears, hopes and anticipations humans have for the future. Understanding the images of the future of young people provides a beneficial source of information not only about their probable future actions but also about their current motivations, decisions and choices. This article describes the procedure of exploring the images of the future of a group of young adults from different cultural backgrounds who are Bachelor and Master's degree students in Finland. Due to the intricate nature of the images of the future and also the existent complexity within the current societal context, this study proposes that investigation of the images of the future demands a refined, subtle selection of methods. During this study, a combination of several interview techniques is employed to collect the qualitative research material. Then Causal Layered Analysis (CLA) is utilized as a multi-layered theoretical framework for qualitative content analysis of the material. The results include four images of the future which reflect on different levels of the young adults' understandings and feelings. The first image, Living With the Chill, displays the most pessimistic view of the future and the fourth, Imagine...!, is the most optimistic one. Two other images, Fear and Hope, and Life as a Chance for Dedication, are moderate, not very optimistic, nor very pessimistic. The images of the future of the participants of this study suggest that young adults tend to define the future in terms of presence or absence of the current societal concerns and do not seem to exceed this framework. They also indicate that the studied young adults' radically negative or positive approach toward the future have reduced their perceived locus of control. We conclude that using CLA in the analysis of interview material produces a fruitful, rich, in-depth understanding of the images of the future.