Cultivating the Temporal Imagination in Sustainability Transitions through Public Pedagogy

Keri Facer, The Times of a Just Transition
Project status

Temporal frames shape our understanding of the world and are particularly important in influencing whether and how individuals and societies understand and respond to questions of ecological crisis and climate change (Norgaard, 2011, Adam and Groves, 2007; Mbembe, 2001; Nanni, 2012; Lazar, 2019). These frames are influenced by the social and cultural resources – media, cultural and artistic representations as well as daily conversations – that are available to us as individuals and societies (Zittoun and Gillespie, 2016; Zittoun & Glavaneau 2020). Temporal frames, therefore, are not fixed but situated in particular historical and cultural conditions, subject to change as conditions change and therefore amenable to social influence and education (Adam, 1998). These frames are often, however, are often treated as ‘natural’ and as such, can provide a particularly significant cultural barrier to individual and collective agreement on transition pathways, as participants are both unfamiliar with and unaware of other ways of thinking with and about the times of of transitions. Consider, for example, the techno-optimist engineer trained by his career and education to focus on ‘fixing the future’ and oriented towards net zero by 2050 who might find himself in dialogue with a community whose own education leads them to see the deep time history of the land and their ancestors as active participants in decision-making. Or the social activist committed to utopian visions of progress in dialogue with a far right activist who wants to return to the stories of the past. The creation of a shared basis for dialogue in these settings requires what we might call a ‘temporal imagination’.

Just as Harvey pointed to the need to develop a geographical imagination, as a means of situating place-based experiences in wider spatial frameworks in order to better understand a situation; and Mills argued that a sociological imagination enabled the connection of personal troubles to wider social struggles. So the temporal imagination, I want to argue in this project, is critical to sustainability transitions in three ways. First, cultivating a temporal imagination may enable individuals to develop empathy with others (through an awareness of the different, equally ‘natural’ temporal frames that they deploy to understand a situation). Second, it may foster a greater collective understanding of how timing practices create conditions that impede or disrupt sustainability transitions across diverse local settings. Third, a temporal imagination may also make visible the way that dominant timing practices actively produce injustices for different groups through aligning or decoupling diverse temporal practices.

The question I am particularly interested in as an educational researcher is: how might the temporal imagination be ‘educated’ as an emancipatory resource for dialogue around how to respond to sustainability challenges? What sorts of pedagogic (and indeed andragogic) practices can support individuals to reflect upon their own temporal frames, encounter and understand those of others, and explore how their lived experiences are being shaped by wider social practices of temporal coordination?

To date, most educational research on time has been oriented either towards understanding the day-to-day timescapes and temporal politics of schools and universities, or to the practical question of how to teach students sequencing and clock time. We need to look elsewhere, then, for practices that might offer elements of the sort of temporal pedagogies that might open up critical and emancipatory engagement with time and timings as situated practices of social organisation and coordination. We need to turn, for example, to the work of Indigenous educators teaching with land as a basis for cultivating deep time awareness and stewardship, or creating ‘dream tanks’ to imagine Indigenous futures (López López and Coello, 2021; UC San Diego Indigenous Futures Institute); to the work of professional futurists developing tools to cultivate ‘futures literacy’ as a means of engaging with questions of human survival (Miller, 2018; Slaughter, 2012 ); to the practices of activists and artists creating public participatory events as a basis for connecting individual and planetary timescales (think of Olafur Eliasson’s melting icebergs at the Paris Climate Summit); to the critical time scholars and policy makers developing platforms for ‘long term’ thinking such as the Long Time Academy; to the climate scientists teaching non-linear time and emergence as a basis for climate action (O’Brien, 2021); or to the mythologists and storytellers drawing on 1000 year old narratives as a resource for confronting contemporary challenges (Hyde, 2019; Shaw, 2014). These practices gesture towards an as-yet unrealised repertoire of tools to cultivate the temporal imagination. At present, however, this work is highly fragmented, locked into discrete disciplinary silos and small-scale pockets of practice. It is under-researched and under-theorised, and its potential as a resource for negotiating how societies might transition towards healthy environments and relations of human solidarity is therefore unfulfilled.

This project will therefore comprise

  • The further development of a theoretical framework for the temporal imagination building on my existing work in this area (Facer, 2022; Facer & Sriprakash, 2021; Facer, 2019).
  • Interviews with pedagogues, artists and designers of temporal pedagogies.
  • Site visits to key examples, to gather data on their capacity to enrich the temporal imagination.
  • Visits to the OECD Futures Division (Tracey Burns) and the Unesco Futures Division (with Sobhil Tahwil) to explore the potential for translating insights from the project into their work.
  • The development of an online publicly available repository of radical experiments in temporal pedagogy
  • In dialogue with Alhadeff-Jones, Stripple, Lotz-Sisitka and Nair – the translation of these experiments into accessible tools and training materials for use by policy and practice partners within the Global Convening Programme.

References cited

Facer, K (2019) Storytelling in Troubled Times: what is the role of educators in the deep crises of the 21st Century, Literacy, 53 (1) 3-13

Facer, K (2022) Imagination and the Future University: Beyond Critique and Desire, Critical Times  5:1 DOI 10.1215/26410478-9536559

Facer, K and Sriprakash, A (2021) Provincialising Futures Literacy: A Caution against Codification, Futures, Vol 133,

Hyde, L (2019) A primer for forgetting: getting past the past, London: Farrer, Strauss and Giroux

Lopez lopez, L and Coello, G (2021) Indigenous Futures and Learnings Taking Place, London: Routledge

Miller, R (ed) 2018) Transforming the Future: Anticipation in the 21st Century, London: Routledge

O’Brien, K (2021) You Matter More than You Think: Quantum Social Science for a thriving world, Oslo: cCHange Press

Shaw, M (2014) Snowy Tower: Parcival and the wet black branch of language, White Cloud Press

Slaughter, R (2012) Welome to the Anthropocene, Futures, 44, 119-126

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