Imagining Alternatives: A sociology of Futures



The sociology of the future has focused on the role of social scientists in futurology, or how to redirect the paths of social change, such as blueprints for “real utopias.” In contrast to this macro-sociological perspective, this paper engages with the sociology of futures: the aspirations, alternative imaginings and projective horizons of individuals as collective agents constructing the future. Inspired by pragmatist tradition,  the sociology of futures is embodied in the concepts of project and projectivity that assumeagency is situated, that our projects and plans are culturally embedded, evolving in time and space as well as through interactions with others.  This cognitive and experiential lens is important for conceptualizing agency and alternative futures as dynamic (always in the making) and for underscoring how individuals’ engagement with the future shapes social action. However, this theoretical terrain has not yet delved into the processes and mechanisms that enable aspirations and the potential for change. Here, context matters with respect to how aspirations are awakened and agency activated.  New theoretical approaches are needed to open up conceptual space for integrating contextualized cultural, institutional and societal dimensions into the analysis of agency and future orientations. We introduce theoretical perspectives developed by non-sociologists: anthropologist Ajun Appaduria’s framework on the capacity to aspire and economist Amartya Sen’s multi-dimensional framework for the capability to aspire.

Our purpose is two-fold: (1) to extend the theoretical borders of the sociology of futures through a cross-fertilization of conceptual domains: the cognitive and experiential,  cultural and relational, structural and institutional; and  (2) to develop a dynamic mutli-dimensional model for agency and futures that can be applied to comparative and empirical research integrating the conceptual tools of the sociology of futures:  projectivity, temporalities and the relational with those in the capability to aspire: opportunity and agency “freedoms.” We will apply these to two empirical cases, one of which, female migrants in low-wages work, I will discuss in my presentation