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Jun 29, 2014

Daniel Bonin shares his thoughts on publishing ideas in any language other than English in this blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

It is argued that a universal world language is unlikely to arise as long as different countries exist and people strive to differentiate themselves from other groups (Ettlinger 2014; McWhorter 2015). However, as an economist this sounds compelling but inefficient, especially when it comes to research. Last time I presented the basic concept of a platform that makes German literature in future studies more accessible to non-German-speaking futurists. Over the past weeks I started to conduct a systematic literature scan which showed me that this could be a worthwhile endeavor. While I find this project to be interesting and exciting, it is actually a pity that it is necessary. So now I am wondering what the incentives are to publish only in German. 


The literature scanning showed that there seem to be two patterns. First there are sources available only in German and fortunately second, some authors tend to condense their old articles published in German into an English article (e.g. articles by Cuhls). An example for sources that are available only in German is the book “Zukunftsforschung im Praxistest” (“Practical Applications of Future Studies”) published by Springer VS (Popp and Zweck 2013). This book features contributions of practitioners that allow others to obtain an insight into the methods and processes used within their companies, respectively public institutions or associations, to explore futures and business opportunities. 

However, this raises the question, for me, what are the incentives to publish only in German. The exchange between cultures and practices is a necessity for “Zukunftsforschung” (future studies) as I understand the field. I recalled that there was a discussion on methods used in companies back in March on the listserv. It seemed that the German literature could provide one with more examples. German sources range from collections of articles on practical applications of futures studies (e.g. Popp and Zweck 2013), to more specific research questions like the role of IT-supported foresight processes (e.g. Durst et al. 2011; 2012), the role of future studies in management disciplines from marketing to logistics to controlling or finance (e.g. Göpfert  2012, Tiberius 2011) and surveys on the use of foresight methods in companies (e.g. Kreibich et al. 2002).


Given the inefficiencies in communication with English-speaking futurists and interested parties, I take it that it is undesirable to have more than one language in future studies. Therefore I am wondering:

Why would you want to publish in German at all?

I hypothesize that this might have something to do with the lack of knowledge of the existence of foresights methods among the broader public. Chances are much higher that a German company interested in exploring the future of its business simply googles “Zukunftsforschung“ or related German terms than for keywords like foresight or future studies. Even if “Zukunftsforschung” carries a negative connotation as it sounds unscientific and less technical. Picture a manager that only knows that he wants to find out about the future of his business. What would he google for, where would he start? Possibly with something like “Zukunft” or “Zukunftsforschung”. So is it that there is some implicit pressure from the demand side, as clients might be illiterate in future studies terminology and do not know what to search for? Then the challenge becomes two-dimensional: (1) Future studies in Germany struggle as a general concept as clients might have a defensive attitude towards the general idea that one can explore futures (an experience many futurists in other countries might relate to), but also (2) as there is a need to publish in German to get the clients’ attention and get ranked well in Google, as clients do not know or think of more “technical sounding” terms. I am wondering whether the solution would be to educate the broader public about future studies, in order to break this vicious circle. While carrying out the “German-English project”, I hope to figure out how the project could become obsolete, which would be the only ultimate goal of such a project (or until we need to translate our knowledge into another language in the future).

Reference List 
  • Durst, C., Volek, A., Greif, F., Brügmann, H., & Durst, M. (2011). Zukunftsforschung 2.0 im Unternehmen. HMD Praxis der Wirtschaftsinformatik48(6), 74-82.

  • Durst, C., Kolonko, T., & Durst, M. (2012). Kooperationsdilemma in der Zukunftsforschung–Ein IT-basierter Lösungsansatz der Bundeswehr.Tagungsband der Multikonferenz Wirtschaftsinformatik, 1785-1796.

  • Ettlinger, M. (2014). Here's Why The World Can Never Have One Universal Language. Retrived from

  • Göpfert, I. (2012). Zukunftsforschung in der Logistik. FOCUS-Jahrbuch, München, 4-5.

  • Kreibich, R., Schlaffer, A., Trapp, C., & Burmeister, K. (2002). Zukunftsforschung in Unternehmen. Eine Studie zur Organisation von Zukunftswissen und Zukunftsgestaltung in deutschen Unternehmen. Sekreteriat für Zukunftsforschung (Gelsenkirchen): Werkstattbericht, (33).

  • McWhorter, J. H. (2015). What the World Will Speak in 2115.Retrived from

  • Popp, R., & Zweck, A. (2013). Zukunftsforschung im Praxistest. Springer VS.

  • Tiberius, V. (2011). Zur Zukunftsorientierung in der Betriebswirtschaftslehre(pp. 89-103). Gabler.

© Daniel Bonin 2015

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