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Forecasting Futures: From Crisis to Justice

Editorial by Nishant Shah for the Future Justice series

blog by Nishant Shah – 13 June 2022
dossier: Future Justice
Future Justice is a programme that invites young artists, researchers and educators to help unpack the idea of a future that is based on justice. Out of deep concern for the world, which is marked by a climate crisis as well as a social and political crisis, ArtEZ studium generale commissioned the publication series Future Justice.

It is a series of publications in which students and alumni of ArtEZ present their visions of the future. Future Justice aims at unfolding alternative ideas of justice, which are informed by ideas of collectivity, care, restoration, non-violence and compassion. In doing so, the series takes a kaleidoscopic, hopeful and meaningful look at the future.

Each contribution offers a glimpse into a possible future and every contributor does so from their own perspective and artistic practice. We are bearing witness to the simultaneous unfolding of a climate crisis, a social crisis and a political crisis. All of these crises are in the now, are rooted in our past and signal specific futures.

Future Justice is a programme commissioned by ArtEZ studium generale it is carried out by the Professorship Aesthetics & Cultures of Technology in cooperation with the Honours Programme.

Forecasting Futures: From Crisis to Justice

Editorial by Nishant Shah, professor Aesthetics & Cultures of Technology

The idea of a crisis has been naturalised in our collective imagination of the present and future. Crises, which are supposed to be extraordinary events, have become the de facto framing tools for addressing the state of things. However, this naturalised state of constant crisis engenders very specific kinds of responses: it declares a suspension of normal protections, safeguards and entitlements, which immediately makes the most vulnerable more precarious.

A perpetual crisis signals the emergence of ‘too big to fail’ institutional structures that orient their resources for self-preservation. Despite their etymological commonality, crises preclude and foreclose criticality because conservation and perpetuation become the preferred mode of address. Crises also generate a sense of scarcity, creating anxious, polarised and conflicted narratives, where different voices are often pitched against each other in acrimony and hostility. Perhaps the biggest consequence of naturalising crises is that it recommends retreat, withdrawal and a concentration on the self, thus disallowing collectivity, and often splintering people into oppositional factions precisely when common grounds and action are most needed.

If crisis remains the only mode by which we address our futures, then we are automatically buying into these resource-driven scripts of status quo and preservation as the common sense and pragmatic modes of shaping and engaging with the future. The future—which was always an uncertain space, and hence, the space for both inspiration and creative action—gets reduced to planning documents, managerial processes and transactional practices all in the name of future proofing and future security.

We engage in two dove-tailed narratives when framing the future as in a state of crisis: on the one hand, we think about the future of the current crises, trying to resolve them and find solutions in the future. In doing so, we simplify and streamline our actions and resources at the cost of everything else that does not fit into the crisis narrative. On the other hand, we also think of the future itself as a rare commodity—something that is scarce, and hence not available for equal and equitable stakes. This produces a tacit mode of discrimination, exclusion, and valuation of human life and experiences in hierarchies of resource management and investment. The future in crisis and the future of the crisis both create neo-fascist regimes that do not invite either critical examination or the capacity to identify failures and errors.

Future Justice

Future Justice is a framework that neuters the omnipotence of crisis as the only way of thinking about the future. Even as we recognise the various factors that are generating and informing crises in the making—social, political, climactic—Future Justice is a prompt to think of the future as embedded in different theories, imaginations, practices and processes of justice. While ‘justice’ is a hugely contested category, and not comprehensive or fail-proof in itself, we are not wedded to any one particular idea of justice.

We are not even thinking about attaining, operationalising, or manifesting justice—the conversations around those can easily be constricted to questions of law, governance, management and infrastructure. Instead, we are thinking of justice as an aspirational ideological space; one which recognises the short-comings and failures of the different models of justice and the epistemic violence that comes with them. The aim of the project is not to build a blue-print of justice. Rather, we want to use the ambitions of justice as both the starting point of our conversations about the future, as well as a strong counter-point to the crisis narrative that has been amplified by a neo-liberal nexus of state, military, media and technology.

Future Justice, then, is an attempt to reformulate our relationship with each other and the world that sustains and nourish it. Future Justice is a provocation, a prompt, a question, an invitation to see what new languages, vocabularies and media we will need to invent and reshape in order to create narratives of future. Narratives that are directed at those who are the least served historically and those who are going to be disenfranchised from their fundamental rights to life and liberty in the narrowing scripts of future crises.

Through Future Justice, we seek to subvert the expected, accepted and naturalised scripts of the future as in a state of crisis. And we aim to show how artistic research, interventions and imaginations can help create pathways to a future that is pinned on collective ownership, action and survival. Moving away from the language of war, the rhetoric of scarcity, and the performance of weighing the value of human life and experience, Future Justice offers a space where gentle truths, slow conversations and humane temporalities can still respond with urgency and emergency to the emergent futures that we see in the making.

In some way, each contribution in this series begins from the recognition of crisis and showing us how the idea of the future changes when it is oriented towards the notion of justice. Drawing from their artistic practice and lived experiences, the young voices featured in this series champion the notions of care, collectivity, restoration, non-violence and compassion that are often missing and the most needed in future forecasting. We have learned a lot from these contributions that show us that futures need not only to be just but also adjustable in order to create justifiable scripts of where we go together. This is a conversation we need to have urgently. With this curated set of entries, I am glad that we are having this conversation right now.