Wicked futures: matter, meaning and the sociology of the future

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Sociologists and futurists have come to see that ‘fabrications’ of the future as entirely open to being remade in the present have become more difficult to sustain in a complex and contingent world. Rather, new and more nuanced conceptualizations of the future are required. To contribute to that task, I draw inspiration from Rittel and Webber’s 1973 paper in which they analyze social problems as ‘wicked problems’ to explore how sociologists have found the future to be difficult and tricky, both conceptually and empirically and have sought to overcome those difficulties through various analytical strategies. I discuss the onto-epistemological status of the future in sociology, tracing major shifts in theorizing of the future and suggest that what makes the future so wicked – so difficult and pernicious - is that it is an ‘entanglement of matter and meaning’. In doing so, I draw on insights from STS (science and technology studies) and other fields of inquiry to propose a new conceptual language in which to do the sociology of the future.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)478-492
Number of pages15
JournalThe Sociological Review
Issue number3
Early online date1 Feb 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017


  • Futures
  • STS
  • Sociology
  • Wicked problems

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