Journal Article: ‘The Art of Disciplined Imagination: Prediction, Scenarios, and Other Speculative Infrastructures.’ Critical Inquiry, Volume 47, Number 4, Summer 2021: 719-748
Contemporary art is brimming with images of a future shaped by environmental destruction, technological innovation, and new forms of sociality. This article looks beyond the content of such images in order to examine the infrastructures that underpin them. Paying attention to two key infrastructures in particular—the Cold War faith in prediction and the extraordinary explosion of scenario planning in the years that followed—the article explores the ways in which speculation was transformed into a tightly defined field of expertise straddling military, policy, and corporate worlds. No longer the preserve of prophets or mystics, the speculative infrastructures incubated within organizations such as the RAND corporation were underwritten by cybernetics, game theory, and systems analysis, all of which helped give prediction a veneer of scientific credibility. And yet, as the planning tools of the postwar era lost their predictive edge, new techniques came to exert influence in a world dominated by the uncertainties of looming environmental catastrophe. The future was no longer thought to emerge from the present in a linear fashion but unfold along a series of branch points that allowed decision makers to navigate through a landscape of uncertainty. Tracing the genealogy of forms of prediction and scenario planning from the mid-twentieth century to the present day, this article places futurological tools in the context of an expanded field of speculative practices that include works of art. Projects by the likes of Stephen Willats, Experiments in Art and Technology, the Harrisons, and others not only generate alternative images of the future but also rework the infrastructures by which such images are conceptualized and produced.