Geography Geographies of the Future
Dragos Simandan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0257


Geographers have become increasingly preoccupied with the problematic of the future in recent decades, but it would be misleading and premature to think of this emerging, diffuse, inchoate area of research as a distinct subdiscipline. One can point out multiple clues that indicate this preformal, undefined status. Firstly, there are no geography journals exclusively dedicated to this research area. Secondly, there are few if any geographers who self-identify on their professional webpages as having expertise in the geographies of the future. Thirdly, when one reads the reference lists of papers published on the geographies of the future, there is often a striking contrast between the abundance of references to geographic scholarship and the paucity of references to the interdisciplinary field of futures studies and its main journals (Futures; Foresight; International Journal of Forecasting; Futures & Foresight Science; Journal of Futures Studies; and Technological Forecasting and Social Change). In other words, if one reads, for example, a paper on the cultural geography of the future, most of its references are likely to be drawn from cultural geography, with few, if any drawn from the established interdisciplinary area of futures studies. It remains to be seen if in the next decades the diffuse research domain of the geographies of the future will become more conscious of itself, more self-aware, and more connected with the communities of practice associated with interdisciplinary futures studies. In this context, this chapter can be seen not as a neutral description of a research area of geography, but as a performative intervention that might contribute to bringing this field into being, or at least to stabilizing it into an academic entity that can become a sufficiently distinct object of reflection, with its own community of practice. Leaving aside the general overviews of the field, this chapter structures the presentation of the current state of the geographies of the future into six interrelated clusters of scholarship: (1) Historical and Cultural Geographies of the Future (2) Geographies of Uncertainty, Risk, and Contingency; (3) Geographies of Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and Autonomous Vehicles; (4) The Future as a Problem for Neoliberal Governmentality; (5) Geographies of Postcapitalist Futures; and (6) Race, Gender, and the Future.

General Overviews

The emerging research domain of the geographies of the future needs to be contextualized in relation to the broader interdisciplinary field of futures studies, as well as in relation to similar discipline-based perspectives on the future from other areas of the humanities and the social sciences. Issues of terminology and nomenclature about this vast and rapidly evolving area of scholarship are addressed in Sardar 2010. Son 2015 provides an overview of the history of futures studies together with a periodization of the field, whereas Bergman, et al. 2010 discusses classification criteria and typologies of futures research. To understand what geography has to offer to scholarship on the future, it is best to juxtapose overviews of the future written from the standpoints of (a) different disciplines and (b) different paradigms within the same discipline. Thus, the geographical perspectives offered in Anderson and Adey 2012, Batty and Cole 1997, and Simandan 2020 can be usefully contrasted not only with one another (to reflect on geography’s internal diversity), but also with sociological (Urry 2016) and philosophical (Rescher 1998) approaches. One of the best analytical entry points into the problematic of the future is from the standpoint of developing, testing, and combining different methods of forecasting. An accessible introduction to this scholarship is offered in Tetlock and Gardner 2016, whereas the best knowledge accumulated on this topic is distilled into principles for practitioners in Armstrong 2001.

  • Anderson, Ben, and Peter Adey, eds. “Future Geographies.” Environment & Planning A: Economy and Space 44.7 (2012): 1529–1635.

    This is the guest editorial to a theme issue of the journal Environment and Planning A dedicated to the geographies of the future. The editorial provides a useful overview of the field, makes the case for the importance of this rediscovered area of scholarship, and introduces the papers in the theme issue.

  • Armstrong, Jon Scott, ed. Principles of Forecasting: A Handbook for Researchers and Practitioners. International Series in Operations Research & Management Science 30. Boston: Kluwer Academic, 2001.

    This handbook is one of the most comprehensive resources on the topic of forecasting, including thirty chapters that cover a large variety of forecasting methods ranging from role-playing and analogies to econometric approaches and conjoint analysis. It includes a forecasting dictionary.

  • Batty, Michael, and Sam Cole, eds. “Time and Space: Geographic Perspectives on the Future.” Futures 29.4–5 (1997): 277–289.

    A guest editorial to a special issue of the interdisciplinary journal Futures focused exclusively on the contributions geographers can make to the field of futures studies. It provides an overview of the ten papers in the special issue, several of which were authored by leaders of geography’s theoretical and quantitative revolution.

  • Bergman, Ann, Jan Ch Karlsson, and Jonas Axelsson. “Truth Claims and Explanatory Claims—An Ontological Typology of Futures Studies.” Futures 42.8 (2010): 857–865.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.futures.2010.02.003

    The paper takes into account ontological aspects to help make sense of the diversity of futures research. It develops a new typology of forecasts organized around four ideal types: predictions, prognoses, science fiction, and utopias/dystopias.

  • Rescher, Nicholas. Predicting the Future: An Introduction to the Theory of Forecasting. New York: SUNY Press, 1998.

    Written for nonspecialists, this book provides a systematic discussion by a philosopher of central concepts to future studies. It covers epistemological, ontological, and practical aspects of prediction.

  • Sardar, Ziauddin. “The Namesake: Futures; Futures Studies; Futurology; Futuristic; Foresight—What’s in a Name?” Futures 42.3 (2010): 177–184.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.futures.2009.11.001

    Influential paper discussing concepts such as “foresight” and “futurology,” which makes the case for the name “futures studies” because of the emphasis it places on the diversity and pluralism of this field. The paper also introduces Sardar’s four laws of futures studies.

  • Simandan, Dragos. “Being Surprised and Surprising Ourselves: A Geography of Personal and Social Change.” Progress in Human Geography 44.1 (2020): 99–118.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132518810431

    Reviews the emerging literature on the geographies of the future in the wider context of processes of social change and personal change. The paper highlights the experience of individual and collective surprise as an analytical entry point for making sense of the relationship between the future and the present.

  • Son, Hyeonju. “The History of Western Futures Studies: An Exploration of the Intellectual Traditions and Three-Phase Periodization.” Futures 66 (2015): 120–137.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.futures.2014.12.013

    A literature review of the multiple histories of futures studies in the Western world, based on the identification of five intellectual traditions as foundational to the emergence of this field. The paper also offers a three-phase periodization of futures studies.

  • Tetlock, Philip E., and Dan Gardner. Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction. London: Random House, 2016.

    Written for a lay audience, the book summarizes an ongoing massive research program seeking to find out the variables that separate bad predictors from good predictors, and good predictors from excellent predictors.

  • Urry, John. What is the Future? Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, 2016.

    Useful introduction to the problematic of the future and to the field of futures studies from the standpoint of a critical sociologist. Provides a clear discussion of the relationship between complex systems and the future.

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