Uncertain Futures: Imaginaries, Narratives, and Calculation in the Economy (Paperback)
  • Uncertain Futures: Imaginaries, Narratives, and Calculation in the Economy (Paperback)

Uncertain Futures: Imaginaries, Narratives, and Calculation in the Economy (Paperback)

(editor), (editor)
Paperback 352 Pages
Published: 09/09/2019
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Uncertain Futures considers how economic actors visualize the future and decide how to act in conditions of radical uncertainty. It starts from the premise that dynamic capitalist economies are characterized by relentless innovation and novelty and hence exhibit an indeterminacy that cannot be reduced to measurable risk. The organizing question then becomes how economic actors form expectations and make decisions despite the uncertainty they face.

This edited volume lays the foundations for a new model of economic reasoning by showing how, in conditions of uncertainty, economic actors combine calculation with imaginaries and narratives to form fictional expectations that coordinate action and provide the confidence to act. It draws on groundbreaking research in economic sociology, economics, anthropology, and psychology to present theoretically grounded empirical case studies. These demonstrate how grand narratives, central bank forward guidance, economic forecasts, finance models, business plans, visions of technological futures, and new era stories influence behaviour and become instruments of power in markets and societies. The market impact of shared calculative devices, social narratives, and contingent imaginaries underlines the rationale for a new form of narrative economics.

Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 9780198846802
Number of pages: 352
Weight: 528 g
Dimensions: 234 x 156 x 18 mm


By making the reader enter the complex worlds of uncertainty management in the economy, Uncertain Futures demonstrates the richness of the contemporary field of research about "futures" in the social sciences....This book offers great insights for any social scientist interested in future management and social action. - Sidonie Naulin, University Grenoble Alpes, European Journal of Sociologu

Uncertain Futures is a stimulating and diverse collection of papers about the consequences of radical uncertainty and how they are managed in practice. As the clear and comprehensive introduction by the editors explains, devices such as narratives, stories, conversations and 'imaginaries' give shape to expectations of the future... Radical uncertainty is not a new concept, but it nevertheless receives less attention than it really deserves. Uncertain Futures is a very welcome and interesting antidote. It left this reader with an enhanced understanding of the expedients that are customarily used as means of either overcoming or else tacitly ignoring radical uncertainty, and of the dangers that a flawed but superficially persuasive narrative can wreak. Mindless positivity is just as dangerous as mindless negativity. For that alone, Uncertain Futures is well worth reading. - William A. Allen, Visitor, National Institute of Economic and Social Research

Economic theory is built on how people make decisions, and in real life all decisions are made under some degree of fundamental uncertainty - people simply do not know what future they face. Uncertain Futures shows that people use works of imagination, or they use narratives, or calculative practices such as business plans, to act in spite of uncertainty. Economics - thanks to Beckert and Bronk - can build upon a much more realistic human foundation than before. A first-rate contribution to the field. - W. Brian Arthur, author of Complexity and the Economy

Especially when uncertainties produced by innovation are compounded by second-order uncertainties about the reactions of others, what should one do when rational calculation of probabilities based on past data is ineffective in predicting the future? From a diverse range of disciplinary perspectives, the essays in this collection creatively explore the role of imagination - long studied as a source of innovation, but until now neglected as a response to uncertainty. - David Stark, Columbia University and author of The Sense of Dissonance

We all have to take decisions with long-term consequences, with little knowledge of what the future may bring. The future is inherently uncertain, so we cannot even estimate probabilities in most cases. The editors of this book have put together a collection of papers by economic sociologists, economists, a psychologist, and an anthropologist to explore the various calculative techniques, narratives, and imaginaries that we use in practice. It is all a far cry from the precise mathematical techniques of the rational expectation world of mainstream DSGE modelling, but none the worse for that. - Charles Goodhart, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and former member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England

How do people make sense of the unknown - perhaps unknowable - future? It is becoming increasingly clear that this question is central to our understanding of economic life. The fine collection of studies in this book is a crucial contribution to this vital debate. - Donald MacKenzie, University of Edinburgh and author of An Engine, Not a Camera

I commend this perspective to economists. This is exciting intellectual territory and seems to me rather important at a time when the future seems more uncertain than ever. - Diane Coyle, Bennett Professor of Public Policy, University of Cambridge, and Director of Enlightenment Economics.

Beckert and Bronk suggest that economic actors strongly anchor their expectations in narratives that are akin to literary fictions. The point is that literary narratives are read because they are convincing, not because they are true...Uncertain Futures is a thought-provoking and analytically helpful book. It corrects some established assumptions in economics and sociology and proposes directions for further research in such important fields as decision-making under uncertainty, economic microfoundations, and sociology of expectati - Ekaterina Svetlova, LSE Review of Books

Collectively, the essential introduction and the selected chapters form a powerful and well-developed contribution to current knowledge about the economy in the social sciences. Indeed, what is most striking in this volume is that it successfully offers 'an unashamedly interdisciplinary' (ix) outlook towards economic action under conditions of uncertainty, bringing together several disciplines, from sociology, political economy and anthropology, to social psychology and economics...Whatever the uncertain future may hold for it, Beckert's and Bronk's Uncertain Futures is highly recommended for a wide range of readers, being able to speak to economic sociologists, anthropologists, political economists, psychologists and, why not, economists, too. - Dylan Cassar, The British Journal of Sociology

An edited volume is usually less than the sum of its parts. It is the other way round in the case of the volume edited by Jens Beckert and Richard Bronk. The intellectual heavyweight of an introduction frames the other, conceptual and empirical, chapters. It gives the reader an elaborate language for describing the phenomena that constitute uncertain futures and distils what the chapters find out about the ways agents deal with fundamental uncertainty . . . The real point about uncertain futures is that what generates uncertainty is not out there but generated inside the system to which it refers. - Waltraud Schelkle (LSE) Economic Sociology

"Questions about how best to characterise the practical grounds of economic agency and the epistemic tools for interpreting it, remain absolutely wide open. They are posed throughout Uncertain Futures in a variety of interesting forms, making this edited volume by Jens Beckert and Richard Bronk an important contribution to current debates on these fundamental economic issues that deserves to be widely read and constructively criticised." - Samuel Sadian, University of Barcelona

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