The futures of agency
Exploring the liminal spaces between action and responsibility

Situated Efficacy and the Performativity of the Future, or the Mutual Interactions Between Sociocultural Determinants and Thinking About the Future

The field of futures studies has increasingly focused on understanding the cognitive processes involved in future thinking (Øverland, 2013), especially imagination and anticipation (e.g. Adam, Poli, Facer, van Lente). However, with rare exceptions (Appadurai, 2013), little is known about the relationships between individuals’ situated social arrangements and environments on the one hand, and their mental constructions of the future on the other.
The paper argues that efficacy theory (Bandura, 1999) provides a linkage that is increasingly wanting as “the future is reduced to climate” (Hulme, 2011:264): Not only does the well-known performativity of the future, culminating in the self-fulfilling prophecy, influence efficacy beliefs, but situated efficacy beliefs also influence assessments of future possibilities (probability).
Indeed, efficacy effects are bidirectional, as the paper shows using climate and sustainability scenarios: While climate scenarios can reduce people’s agentic responses (Shi et al., 2015), perceived low or high self and collective efficacy is a cause of different responses to these scenarios (e.g., mobilisation versus indifference). Efficacy theory thus illuminates both why people can mobilise in the face of pessimistic climate scenarios and why they sometimes don’t when faced with desirable, more sustainable futures, nuancing some of the work on positive futures. Sometimes, it is not only the lack of available positive futures, or personal morality, that determine a lack of commitment, but rather the fact that people feel they are not in a position to do much about climate change.

Isabelle Vuong
Open Futures