Scenarios we live by : Theorizing anticipatory practices for societal security

Abstract: This thesis explores and theorizes practices for generating knowledge and experience of possible futures in the present. Often, our unreflected everyday actions are clearly focused on the future. We plan future events into calendars, buy insurances, follow weather forecasts, and practice for performances of various kinds, all to reduce the uncertainties that the future brings. Various societal areas have developed specialized and systematic ways of generating knowledge in order for people to prepare for possible future events. A particular and extensive area is that involving societal security and preparedness for extraordinary events. The thesis explores various aspects of futures-making practices in the overall field of societal security, with a special focus on recent measures to strengthen the public's emergency preparedness. The overall aim is to deepen knowledge about the contemporary use of futures-making practices (such as imagination and enactment) and related techniques (such as scenario writing and simulations). Societal security and emergency preparedness have recently come to be recognized nationally and globally in ways that we have not experienced since the Cold War era. The empirical backdrop of the thesis tells about some major events that occurred during the first five years of the new millennium. During this period, a number of terrorist attacks and natural disasters occurred which greatly affected futures-making practices in areas related to societal security and preparedness. Following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, many actors in the security business began to implement new, or revived, ways of relating to the future. From previously focusing mainly on plausible events, interest now turned to possible and unexpected events. Following the criticized management of hurricane Katrina in 2005, a visionary work was initiated with the aim of creating an inclusive and all-encompassing culture of preparedness, a culture that would involve all sectors and actors of society, including the public. The examples may by from a unilateral American context, however the events can also be perceived as part of a global trend with local variations. A trend that includes new ideas about public participation in societal preparedness, as well as new ways in which we create preliminary representations of possible futures in order to prepare for them. In order to clarify different ways in which we relate to the future, I apply cultural geographer Ben Anderson’s (2010) classification of anticipatory practices. Anderson highlights three principal practices: imagination, calculation, and performance. The thesis explores how futures are imagined and enacted through the techniques of scenario writing and simulation, in four separate studies (articles I-IV). Studies I and II examine how imaginations of future emergencies are articulated in interviews with local safety coordinators and volunteers in Sweden, as well as in institutional exercise scenarios in the US. The first study shows how collaboration between the public and professionals is perceived as an ideal for managing societal stress and, furthermore, how various forms for organizing the voluntary public may facilitate for or interfere with fruitful collaboration. The second study investigates how governmental authorities has popularized emergency preparedness through a campaign aiming to prepare people for a possible zombie invasion. The study shows how the campaign makes use of a dynamic interplay between reality and fiction, realism and irrealism, and affirmation and distancing. Studies III and IV examine the meanings of spatiality, materiality, and affect in large-scale disaster simulations for the public. The studies are based on documents and observations collected and conducted in Japan and Turkey in 2014 and 2015. With the third study, I wish to contribute to existing debates on experience design and affective atmospheres in disaster simulation, while in the fourth study I explore enactment-based exercises and experience design through a lens of Foucauldian governmentality and spatial rationality. The four articles are given a common theoretical framework consisting of sociological perspectives on time and temporality, which highlight how the conditions for futures-making practices has evolved through changes in people’s relation to the future. The overall results in the thesis indicate that possibilities for the public to participate in enactment-based exercises are currently limited. However, when made publicly available, exercises are most often designed as entertaining, sensory, and affective learning experiences. Present imaginaries and enactments of negative futures are thus enmeshed with considerations regarding what is possible and probable, real and unreal, near and distant. Furthermore, facilities for public exercises are part of a complex apparatus involving political, economic, and educational perspectives, as well as aspects of entertainment, urban planning, educational technology, and public space.