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Trauma-Informed Futures: Part 2 – Exploring Futures Unconsciousness

In the first part of this blog, I explored how community-led trauma healing programs are

influential in bringing futures consciousness for marginalized youth in Kenya. As a

continuation of the first blog, a key question posed in this second blog is: if there is a futures

consciousness, is there also not an opposing parallel or futures unconsciousness?

As I engaged with “soaking and poking” as part of my Anticipatory Action Learning research

methodology, the concept of futures unconsciousness organically arose from the

workshops, interviews, surveys, and conversations with experts, like Tom Lombardo.

Within the Futures Studies community, we can discuss being futures literate and by

extension, futures illiterate. Any form of literacy is premised on having some basic cognitive

functions, educational exposure (formal or informal), and skill acquisition aptitudes. But is

there an opposing phenomenon—a futures unconsciousness? A quick Google search finds

no hits for this term. The term “unconscious” simply means the part of the mind which is

inaccessible to the conscious mind, but which affects behavior and emotions. Yet when we

think of the term, we conjure images of a person flat out, unresponsive, and mentally

unaware, but the unconscious mind in reality is merely not able to access the stored

memories, learned behaviours, and suppressed emotions.

If an individual or community remains caught in a past haunted by personal, historical, and

trans/intergenerational traumas, are there not certain engaged futures that remain

dormant because of futures unconsciousness? Physiologically, and not necessarily

psychologically, consciousness refers to being awake and aware of one’s surroundings with

a degree of controlled thought. Unconsciousness is non-responsiveness and loss of bodily

control, so while the body is still alive, nothing external is happening. A similar phenomenon

could be happening with futures thinking. I posit that futures unconsciousness may well be

composed of similar dimensions as futures consciousness, just characterized by the opposite

attributes. The comparative table below builds out in further detail these opposing

dimensions of futures consciousness.

Futures Consciousness

Futures Unconsciousness

Time Perspective – Forms the foundation of the five dimensions and encompasses the basic concept of understanding time as consisting of the past, present, and future.

Time Trapped – An internal memory clock constantly rewinds to replay the past to only bring “used futures” to the present, often only with a short-term focus, i.e., only months and not years/decades.

Agency Beliefs – Having some form of ability or empowerment to influence how the future will unfold.

Disempowerment – Lack of self-belief and low self-esteem exacerbate the debilitating effect of being time-trapped.

Openness to Alternatives – Combines elements of creativity, imagination, critical thinking, openness, and the ability to embrace change.

Risk Aversion – Seeing no positive futures leads to risk avoidance and personal path dependencies that often carry harmful mental and physical health risks.

Systems Perceptions – Using holistic thinking to maintain a systemic conceptualization of problems and processes from an eco-psychological self-perspective.

Closed-Loop Thinking – An in-the-box thinking closes the mind to alternatives, further reinforcing a risk averse mindset. The “dream” is to someday have a dream.

Concern for Others – Building on the four previous dimensions, concern for others incorporates values, morals, and ethics to guide a person’s critical mindset and engagement with their family, community, and society.

Self-Protection and Projection – While communal relationships are important, a preoccupation with fear and the unknown fosters self-protective behaviors, and if provoked, an external projection of negative thoughts and behaviours.

Wisdom – The holistic ability to combine psychological capacities with character virtues to increase futures consciousness by uniting the mind with emotions, knowledge with ethics, consciousness with action, and conviction with open-mindedness.

Ignorance – Lack of exposure to the wider world, risk aversion, in-the-box and insular thinking, low self-esteem, combined with a future informed by a trauma-filled past results in a simple ignorance of reality and any strategies and agency for changing it.

While the concept of futures unconsciousness may be a new term I coined, the conceptual elements of both futures consciousness and unconsciousness are embedded in the arguments and theories proposed by individuals like Franz Fanon, Paulo Freire, Zara Bain, Walter Mignolo, Rianna Oelofsen, Boaventura de Sousa Santos, and Ziauddin Sardar.

There is much remaining to unpack with a concept like futures unconsciousness, but this second blog hopefully will stir new conversations around the need for the cognitive emancipation of futures unconsciousness. This will be a crucial step in expanding participatory and democratic futures to the hundreds of millions living in marginalized communities around the world.

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