This is part of a regular series of posts that track a few notable things I find on Twitter that reflect signals and/or futures thinking I think will be relevant to social workers and/or folks in higher education. You can view previous posts in this series here.
To say it has been an unusual couple of months would be the understatement (literally) of the century. Numerous voices have described our times as the reckoning with the “dual pandemics” – covid 19 and racialized violence at the hands of the police.
This entry begins with an overview of the current crisis of racialized police violence – through a futures lens. (Previous posts have provided extensive information specifically related to a futures and/or social work perspective on covid-19.)
A Futures Lens on Racialized Police Violence
The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others provided only the latest example of racialized lethal police violence. It has provoked a summer of consistent, widespread and powerful demonstration and vocal calls for everything from reform to defunding and complete re-imagining of the role of police in modern society. It is being described as the potentially the largest social movement in US history, and has global reach beyond.
Social work has deepened its only level of dialogue, debate and exploration of this topic – particularly after the U.S. President suggested that social work should be more involved in police work. The National Association of Social Work and other social work scholars and leaders were quick to respond. Many have expressed strong opinions that social work doesn’t belong in police partnerships, despite the many years that such contributions have been made. Numerous important convenings have continued to deepen and increase focus on related critiques, professional soul searching and important reckoning with the question of whether and how social work should participate in the future of policing. Other voices suggest that there are a wide range of other approaches including mutual aid and peer supports that can better address the crisis of lack of support in vulnerable communties – better than police OR social work. The creative ways that people are coming together to respond to covid-19 is something to watch carefully, learn from and grow capacity around. It has been an inspiring dimension of a deeply rattling time.
This is an enormously important time for the social work profession as it debates, explores and considers the ethical and practical dimensions of how to practice in a way that truly contributes to a future of equity and racial justice. I support the dialogue and believe we are on the verge of some incredibly deep revisions and transitions in how we think about and practice “public safety” in the years to come. I would suggest that these debates and dialogues as deep developmental spaces for our entire social work enterprise…and I believe that a futures lens could help to inform and guide these dialogues to new places not only to reconcile the past and the present, but what vitally important emergent issues (like the drum and expansion of surveillance technology) absolutely MUST be considered when forming a change and equity agenda for the years to come.
A futures perspective would assert that considering not only the past and the present is necessary, but what is emergent and what may be just beyond the range of our ability to observe is equally important. In her book “Race Against Technology,” author and scholar Ruha Benjamin suggests that technology is accelerating a kind of policing that doesn’t necessarily involve actual human police – but rather algorithms, surveillance and acceleration in related infrastructure as commerce and entwined in governmentality that should be of great concern to human rights and equity advocates. Other scholars such as Safiya Umoja Noble have already extensively noted the deep racism embedded the way that the internet functions – and influencing a number of related emerging technologies. They symbolize that simply “increasing” or “decreasing” the number of police or amount of funding in an of itself will not necessarily change the trend of over-policing via technology, just as it is not possible to make technological systems “race neutral” at will without deep and significant examination and exposure of the race-related power dynamics that are too often embedded into emerging technologies. The idea of “digital policing” is a very real and emergent part of the evolution of the way law enforcement is conceptualized, along with other technological deployment. The very real emergence of artificial intelligence in the policing space involves a very particular set of risks and concerns. Issues such as the growth of and related equity concerns related to facial recognition technologies exemplify and illustrate these complexities that should be of concern to social workers, as well as to society at large.
For my part, I continue to watch, with admiration, entirely new ways of approaching justice such as the commitment that Austrailia has just made to a “truth and justice process” concerning recognition of ongoing injustices against Aboriginal people. I continue to imagine what such a process might look like here in the U.S. and what a future might look like in which creative and transformational work of this nature might be like.
These discourses have huge implications for a number of large systems where social workers practice and underscore the importance of us being ready for new challenges and new forms of old problems as we continue and evolve our profession. Being “future ready” means that we gain the knowledge, skills and ethics to positively impact not only the social problems and challenges in front of us but those that are around the corner. Ideologies both of policing and of futuring must be unpacked and democratized in new ways…now and tomorrow.
Covid-19 and the Future
This is a really thoughtful and interesting piece about the speed at which covid-19 is expanding the creativity and imaginations of humanity in the midst of the pandemic. Author Kim Stanley Robinson says: “What felt impossible has become thinkable. The spring of 2020 is suggestive of how much, and how quickly, we can change as a civilization.”
This article is a creative take on how cities may continue to evolve to meet the challenges of covid-19 and beyond.
Here’s an interesting piece about the post-covid 19 world written by 7 economists suggesting important lessons for the world and related transformational possibilities.
Another great take on the pros and cons of futures thinking (and its variations – some of which are more corporatized than others) comes from Dr. Devon Powers. This piece carefully and thoughtfully navigates the meaningful from the fluff of futures thinking and discourse.
This article asks the provocative question “who owns your face?” I’ve been in a number of futures sessions in which the idea of “copyrighting your own face” has come up partially in jest, and partially seriously. It introduces the reader to the world of “data brokerage,” and though the piece is a couple of years old now, it is even more relevant now. The ongoing complexity with which our personal data moves beyond what is visible should be considered by social workers as part of our reading and understanding of the contemporary ecosystem we live and work. This is especially relevant to people and communities who have been exploited and/or marginalized.
Here’s another of these thought-provoking lists of “ways technology will change the world by…” (insert year here…). I must confess I always click on them… Generally I find their value in groups (the end/beginning of the year is always a good time for a fresh batch) and like to try to get a “meta-sense” of what they are revealing as a group. This particular list is more thoughtful and imaginative than most – though in no way complete or exhaustive. Important note: Sometimes these types of lists can be heavy on the “used” or “official” futures (those futures suggested by powerful entities pushing a particular agenda aligned with economic or political forces). That is always a risk. My own commitment as a futurist, as is the case with many futurists I admire and follow, is to go deeper to uncover ideas and images of the future that may be emergent, uncomfortable, complicated and not necessarily easily managed by the market or dominant political forces. Of course, as a social worker I have many questions, and they all revolve around these core concepts: Who will decide if these futures come to pass, who will win and lose in these types of futures, etc.? All that said, as I continue to invite folks to consider the future either in social work or interdisciplinary spaces – with these provisos, this is the kind of list that can be great fun and very useful to unleash some bigger and unbounded thinking. This is particularly true when working with students.
Futures Thinking for a Better World
Speculative futures is a particular branch of foresight and futures work that focuses on creating imaginative experiences, scenarios and/or artifacts that embody and invite more personal, visceral and engaged futures experiences. This article, written by speculative futures leader and expert Dr. Stuart Candy gives an indepth overview of the kinds of projects that can emerge when speculative futurists get engaged. Here’s another terrific piece covering storytelling and imagination related to climate change by Mansi Parikh.
This half hour interview by renowned and international futurist and scholar Dr. Sohail Inayatullah is also about the role of new narratives in understanding the changing world. You can read some of his classic themes and conceptual/analytic frameworks here.
Here’s a wonderful piece about a speculative imagination project led by Olalekan Jeyifous and an Afrofuturist turn for Brooklyn, New York.
Futurist Vanessa Mason shares this creative and lively post about the importance of imagination to move through the dual pandemics of covid-19 and racism in our world to build toward the future we collectively want. (Note – she includes a terrific shout out to Columbia University Social Work Professor Dr. Courtney Cogburn and her VR Film “The 1000 cut journey.”)
Note: I just had the privilege of finishing up the Institute for the Future’s Design Futures course last week. It was fantastic for many reasons – I’ll be doing a post soon to do a download. You can find out more about the training here. Special respectful shout out to trainers Dr. Jake Dunagan and Jacques Barcia. Learned a lot and have so many ideas about how to engage social work in some “next level” creativity in our thinking and our work vis a vis these tools and ideas.
Systems Science, Chaos and Complexity
This article does a fine job of reviewing these important concepts – not only essential knowledge for futures work but increasingly relevant for cutting edge macro social work.
I found this additional piece about covid-19 and systems change also quite interesting and constructive.
In a slightly different but important and creative turn, I found this piece by Dr. Deepa Iyer to be a wonderful overview of “social change roles.” It both acknowledges the complexity and range of roles that communities of change agents might use to best arrange their resources to best achieve their objectives.
Universal Basic Income – Getting Ready
Covid-19 has caused more discourse and consideration of UBI than at any other time in recent history. This article is a good review of some of the fundamental issues and complications. It even considers some cryptocurrency possibilities as part of its coverage. Could it happen? Not clear yet…but if it could…social work might well be part of making it so, and making it work. Another interesting initiative (connected to previous U.S. presidential candidate Andrew Yang) is called the Data Dividend Project which aims to use class action law to develop direct payments to individuals based on large scale use of data by a number of well-known corporations. I’m not endorsing (haven’t studied it deeply enough to do so yet) but in general I find the spirit behind this kind of thing relevant and fascinating.
Crip Technoscience Manifesto
As I’ve had the pleasure of attending a variety of futures gatherings the last few years, I’ve had the opportunity to hear from many medical and technology experts seeking to find cures and/or restore life and functioning from a wide variety of degenerative diseases, conditions or injuries. It is a truly fascinating time to be alive to see the ways that technology can intersect with human need. That said, it is also very complicated to assess who decides what should or should not be considered a disability, what corrective or restorative solutions should be available or what they should be like. I recently ran across this article (Crip Technoscience Manifesto) and it seemed a really important part of ethical and critical framing of these kinds of issues. Through its centering of power and voice of people living with and experiencing disabilities as an essential element – I found it both incredibly inspiring as well as useful in navigating how to think about, interrogate and move among a great deal of activity happening in this space.