Past remarkable: Using life stories to trace alternative futures

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Abstract

The paper argues that life stories and histories offer different perspectives on the past, with implications for studying the future. A life is proposed as a form of "social site" (Marston, S.A., Jones III, J.P., & Woodward, K. (2005). Human geography without scale, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 30, 416-432.) where the future is met and negotiated. Unlike the broad sweep of historical narrative, a focus on the site of a life can reveal cumulative losses, futures denied and paths not taken. Life stories challenge historical narrative with alternative futures that 'might-have-been'; they might therefore usefully be added as a more experimental type to Inayatullah's taxonomy of historical "traces" (Inayatullah, S. (2012). Humanity 3000: A comparative analysis of methodological approaches to forecasting the long-term, Foresight, 14 (5), 401-417).A case study based on a life story from Aceh is used to demonstrate ways in which alternative futures can emerge from life stories and then be acted upon. The paper concludes that the experimental power of life stories as historical traces lies not only in the stories themselves but in the unique event of storytelling and its potentially transformative impact on the teller and listener, and hence the future.

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Palmer, J. (2014). Past remarkable: Using life stories to trace alternative futures. Futures, 64, 29–37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2014.10.002

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