Future Fears

Anticipation and the geopolitics of emotion in the Future Industry


  • Christina Garsten
  • Adrienne Sörbom Stockholm University




future industry, emotions, geopolitics, anticipatory governance, commodity


This paper is based on ethnographic work in organization that form part of what we term the Future Industry - such as think tanks, consultancies and governmental bodies - involved in the charting, description and analysis of geopolitical future scenarios. That is to say, an industry explicitly aiming for organizing the future. This type of activity has for centuries generally been left to politics, executed foremost by governments and political parties. In later decades, however, the future industry has taken up on political parties in formulating and advocating options and suggestions for the future. In the paper we analyse the Future Industry, which we see as serving, feeding into, the emotional streams of contemporary politics and economics. We wish to describe the emotion work the industry undertakes in order to get the attention of its significant others. In the interest of selling beliefs of the future, we suggest that it draws on reason, in the format of science, making its customers sense the pros and cons of the particular future it puts forth. In so doing, it at times may attempt in shaping the future, but what it foremost does, is selling ideas of the future as a commodity. The paper argues that the mapping of global futures to a large extent involves the making of a ‘geopolitics of emotion’. In anticipatory activities, involving the voicing of ‘global problems’ and the presentation of ‘desirable futures’, the cultivation, articulation and management of fear, anxiety, and hope, as well as a reliance on rationality, reason, and evidence, are central components.