Critical utopian action research and the power of future creating workshops

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This paper will discuss some of our and our colleagues experiences doing critical utopian action research inspired by the future creating workshop (Tofteng and Husted 2011, Critical utopian action research is a rather new tradition within the action research family that has grown to be strong in Denmark over the last 20 years (Nielsen and Nielsen 2006). The tradition primarily origin from the work of Kurt Aagaard Nielsen, Birger Steen Nielsen and Peter Olsén (1996) developed through reflections on how critical theory, pedagogics, and work life research enriches each other when brought together in a participatory process of democratic development of everyday life. Critical utopian action research is characterized by a methodological preference to the future creating workshop as a method that captures the scientific theoretical approach: The future creating workshop outline a specific method originally created by the Austrian future scientists Robert Jungk and Norbert Müllert for the purpose to empower social activism (Jungk and Müllert 1987). Their primary aim was to create spaces for people to cooperate round producing alternative drafts for societal change and the method was originally strongly connected to a cultural or social revolution framed within a political fight of civil action groups. The future creating workshop was invented to enable development though social imagination or fantasy and to turn against what Jungk and Müllert called unimaginative and profit-seeking societal developments in existing society. Critical utopian action researchers are influenced by the methodological steps in the future creating workshop as the method holds a strong potential to provide a free space (Bladt and Nielsen 2013) for the participants to create action, experiments or social activism through a systematically investigation into their own discomfort, ambivalence and critique on the one hand and their utopian ideas and desires for better ways on the other hand. The link between critique and utopia makes the methodological nerve; the legacy from critical theory that states that all beginnings are wrong (Adorno and Horkheimer 1944) are challenged through a future oriented element of participation to open this pessimistic approach to new jointly developed beginnings, that can only be truly new if worked out as utopians with the ability to transgress rationalities that seems to limit our imagination of what constitutes a better life in contemporary society (Negt 1984). Title: Critical utopian action research and the power of future creating workshops Keywords: Critique, Utopias, Everyday life, social activism Background: This paper will discuss qualities, obstacles and new possibilities for change in connection to the future creating workshop as a method for action research; In this sense the paper have two purposes, one is to bring critical utopian action research closer in dialogue with a wider ecology of international action research society and the other is to reflect on future creating workshops and how it’s used by us and can be used by others as a method to overcome reification and instrumental necessity. Methods: The paper stresses the use of future creating workshops within critical utopian action research. In the future creating workshop participation is turned upside down. We call in upturned-participation. Within traditional participatory planning we talk about a participatory ladder. The steps on the ladder reflects how one can participate in different scales an ways, from being merely an informant to being self-determining and performing. The ladder tells us notion about who initiate the process or who decides, but often the initiative or frame is set by the authorities. In an upturned participation process like the future creating workshop, the participants are invited in to reflect and decide where to begin according to their own critique and desire. In this sense the participation process becomes upturned and emergent. The paper will reflect on results and use of the future creating workshop as it has evolved in our own and in our colleagues’ engagement to action research over the last 20 years. Results: The paper reflects on how future creating workshops can be a substantial part of an action research process which emphasizes critique and utopian thinking as a fertile way to make sustainable changes within everyday living in ways that challenge societal discourses that appears closed and stiffened. As part of a critical utopian action research process the future creating workshop holds both the ability to create space for action and to create space for analysis and reflections. It can be seen as both and development space for the participant and exploration room for the researcher. This said the developments and analysis goes hand in hand and the process of exploring, developing and analyzing is a common project between the participant and the researchers. Conclusions: When stressing critique and utopian ideas within upturned participatory processes as the starting point, the CUAR tradition brings new input to the wider society of action research, insisting that transgressing change can be created though a methodological dialogue between critical analysis and utopian thinking. References: Adorno, T., & Horkheimer, M..(2002 (1944)): Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford University Press Arnstein, Sherry R (1969): A Ladder of Citizen Participation, In Journal of the American Institute of Planners, Vol. 35, No. 4, pp. 216-224 Bladt, Mette and Kurt Aagaard Nielsen (2013): Free space in the processes of action research In Action Research. 11, 4, p. 369-385 Jungk, Robert and Norbert Müllert.(1987): Future Workshops – How to Create Desirable Futures. London: Institute for Social Inventions Oskar Negt(1984):Lebendige Arbeit, enteignete Zeit. Politische und kulturelle Dimensionen des Kampfes um die Arbeitszeit. Frankfurt am Main/New York Nielsen, Kurt Aagaard and Birger Steen Nielsen( 2006) Methodologies in Action Research. In Nielsen, Kurt Aagaard and Lennart Svensson (eds.). Action Research and Interactive Research: Beyond Practice and Theory. London: Shaker Publishing: 63 - 89 Nielsen, Birger Steen, Kurt Aagaard Nielsen and Peter Olsén(1996): From silent to talkative participants. A discussion og technique as social construction. In Economic and Industrial Democracy. Vol. 17 No 3. Sage Tofteng, Ditte and Mia Husted. 2011. Theatre and Action Research. How Theatre Can Empower Action Research Processes in the Field of Unemployment. In Action Research. 9 (1): 27-41
Publikationsdato4 nov. 2015
Antal sider2
StatusUdgivet - 4 nov. 2015
BegivenhedALARA 9th Action Learning Action Research and 13th Participatory Action Research World Congress: Collaborative and sustainable learning for a fairer world: Rhetoric or reality? - St. George Hotel and Conference centre, Pretoria, Sydafrika
Varighed: 4 nov. 20157 nov. 2015
Konferencens nummer: 9


KonferenceALARA 9th Action Learning Action Research and 13th Participatory Action Research World Congress
LokationSt. George Hotel and Conference centre


  • Undersøgelsesdesign, teori og metode