What Future Studies Is, And Is Not | Jim Dator

Jim Dator (U. Hawaii); What Future Studies Is, And Is Not; WHEN? 2 pages ← whatfuturestudiesis


  • ideas about the future.
  • images about the future.
  • envisioning the futures
  • alternative futures.
  • several conflicting images at one time


  • as predictive science → fortune telling (ahem, shame on you)
  • as anticipation → as prudence & reasonableness.

Dator’s Laws of the Future

  1. “The future” cannot be “predicted” because “the future” does not exist.
    1. While “the future” cannot be “predicted,”
      yet “alternative futures” can and should be “forecast.”
    2. “The future” cannot be “predicted,”
      but “preferred futures” can and should be

      • envisioned,
      • invented,
      • implemented,
      • evaluated,
      • revised,
      • … and other verbs.
      • rinse & repeat.
    3. Futures Studies precedes, then linked to
      • Strategic Planning,
        and thence to
      • Administration (Execution).
  2. Any useful idea about the futures should appear to be ridiculous.
    1. Because new technologies permit new behaviors and values,
    2. “The most likely future” is often one of the least likely futures.
    3. To be useful, the theoretician’spractitioner’s ideas should expect to be ridiculed and the ideas rejected (initially).
    4. The practitioner must defend the implausible condepts proposed (that’s the job).
  3. “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

Methods & Frameworks

  • long wave (theory)
  • cyclical forces (theory)
  • generations (theory)
    the “generations” through their life cycles (age-cohort analysis)


  • forecasting
  • envisioning
  • creating

but definitely not predicting


  • “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us,” attributed to Marshall McLuhan.


  • Wendell Bell, Foundations of Futures Studies. Transaction Publishers, 1997. Two Volumes.
    • Foundations of Futures Studies: Volume 1: History, Purposes, and Knowledge; Routledge; 2003-08-31; 404 pages; Amazon:0765805391: paper: $32+SHT.
    • Foundations of Futures Studies: Volume 2: Values, Objectivity, and the Good Society; Routledge; 2004-03-31; 404 pages; Amazon:0765805669: paper: $32+SHT.
  • Jim Dator, Advancing Futures: Futures Studies in Higher Education. Praeger, 2002-04-30; 408 pages; Amazon:0275976327: paper: $36+SHT.


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