Postnormal times

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Postnormal times or "PNT", a concept developed by Ziauddin Sardar, is a description of the turbulent and changing times we are living in. Sardar defines PNT as "in an in-between period where old orthodoxies are dying, new ones have yet to be born, and very few things seem to make sense."[1] This period is characterized by three C’s: chaos, complexity and contradictions, which come together to produce uncertainty and different varieties of ignorance.

Definition[edit]

The concept of postnormal times is based on the notion of Post-normal science, developed by Jerome Ravetz and Silvio Functowicz. In PNS, "facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent."[2]

What applies to science also applies to the world at large. In PNT, what we conventionally see as ‘normal’ evaporates. Concepts and ideas that have historically guided us - : modernity, postmodernism, predatory capitalism, market fundamentalism, hierarchical structures of society, institutions and organisations, top down politics, broken government, polluting industries, runaway technology, marginalisation of the vast swathes of humanity, xenophobia, racism and misogyny, unjust social and political policies, scientism, and everything else that has shaped and defined the ‘modern world’ - become irrelevant. In particular, the old ideas of progress, constant growth and efficiency are now redundant. We need to find new ways to understand and navigate postnormal times.

A number of scholars and journalists have observed that something strange is happening to our planet as well as at social, cultural and political levels. Globalization has created an inter-connected world where everything is connected to everything else. Innovations and advances in technology transform the social and cultural landscapes rapidly. Climate change has added an extra layer of complexity. The resulting phenomenon has variously been described as global weirding"[3] (3) and "global swarming"[4] But the concept of PNT provides a theoretical framework for the analysis of this phenomenon, methods for developing policy to cope with it, and ideas for exploration of postnormal futures. Sardar emphasizes that we are not talking of desired futures or preferable futures---that comes after postnormal times---although we are describing a potential, indeed given the trends, a necessary future. What we are actually doing is describing, based on certain observations, a phenomenon ‘out there’. By understanding the trends of the last couple of decades, we can have a better appreciation of the potential postnormal future that lies ahead. Postnormal times thus describe the dynamics of our time, or the zeitgeist if you like, and charts the transitions we are going through.

In support of engaging communities of various scope and scale on how to best navigate PNT and imagine preferred pathways toward the future(s), Sardar and Sweeney published an article in Futures outlining The Three Tomorrows method, which fills a gap in the field as "many methods of futures and foresight seldom incorporate pluralism and diversity intrinsically in their frameworks, and few, if any, emphasize the dynamic and merging nature of futures possibilities, or highlight the ignorance and uncertainties we constantly confront."[5] In this article, Sardar & Sweeney provide an overview of the Menagerie of Postnormal Potentialities, which includes black elephants, black swans, and black jellyfish.

PNT is one of the core areas of research for the Center for Postnormal Policy and Futures Studies, which is based at East-West University in Chicago, Illinois, USA. A number of articles and editorials on PNT have been published in East-West Affairs: A Quarterly Journal of North-South Relations in Postnormal Times.

Criticism[edit]

PNT has been criticized as a Western concept[6] that does not apply to India and other emerging markets. The three C’s of PNT (chaos, complexity and contradictions) have been panned as Alliterative Logic, theorizing through alliterative word-triads that is not based on empirical evidence.[7] Jay Gray has suggested that PNT is embryonic, needs a more robust framework, and should be extended to include C S Holling's adaptive cycle.[8] Scientists working on complex evolving systems have pointed out that PNT recalls the ‘Long Waves’ of Kondratiev and Joseph Schumpeter’s view of waves of "creative destruction."[9]

Evidence[edit]

As Sardar argues, PNT is not a ‘Western’ or ‘Eastern’ concept.[10] Indeed, such divisions in an interconnected, globalised world make little sense. Postnormal outcome of, for example, climate change is not confined to northern or southern hemispheres of the globe but affect us all. Similarly, financial collapse or a global pandemic would affect every corner of the world. The empirical evidence for PNT is everywhere: just look around you. The capitalist economic system is not working; or working just for one percent of the world populations who are accumulating the bulk of its wealth at the expense of increasing inequality. Just 88 individuals have amassed 80% of the world’s capital. Politics has become dysfunctional; governance has become problematic; and the world is awash with protests and demonstrations that could easily become chaotic. The old paradigm of America leading the world no longer holds true with the emergence of China, India, and Brazil, and the re-emergence of Russia and other powers. Many things we have taken for granted are about to be transformed radically raising a series of fundamental questions. What does it mean to be human when you are a product of synthetic biology? What is ‘the body’ when it consists of parts printed on a 3-D printer? What happens to the conventional notion of marriage when we have same sex marriage? What does it mean to be human when you are a product of synthetic biology? Yet, the human, however we see it, is now deeply implicated in changing the planet itself: human behaviour and its impact on Earth’s atmosphere has become so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch – leading to the concept of the Anthropocene and, as some have argued, the concept of the "Technopocene."[11] Climate change and loss of biomass has produced the phenomenon of Global Weirding of which jellyfish blooms are a clear sign.[12] The mass extinction of species is leading us towards the "Sixth Extinction."[13] We are constantly on the verge of ‘market failure’, turbulent political change, social unrest, pandemics, and this and that crisis – all of which indicate that many interconnected systems are on the verge of going postnormal.

Sources[edit]

In 2011, Futures published a special issue on Postnormal Times edited by Merryl Wyn Davies; Futures 43, no. 2(2011) 135-227 March.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ziauddin Sardar, "Welcome to postnormal times," Futures 42(2010) 435-444.
  2. ^ Silvio Funtowicz and Jerome R. Ravetz, "A new scientific methodology for global environmental issues," in Ecological Economics: The Science and Management of Sustainability, edited by Robert Costanza (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991) 137–152.
  3. ^ John A Sweeney, "Command-and-control: Alternative futures of geoengineering in an age of global weirding," Futures 57(2014) 1-13.
  4. ^ Bryan Welsh, "Invasive species," Time 184(28 July 2014)
  5. ^ Ziauddin Sardar & John A. Sweeney, "The Three Tomorrows of Postnormal Times," Futures 75(2016) 1-13.
  6. ^ Rakesh Kapoor, "Is there a postnormal time? From the illusion of normality to the design for a new normality," Futures 43(2011) 216-220.
  7. ^ Sam Cole, "Alliterative logic: A theory of postnormal times," Futures 43(2011) 209-215.
  8. ^ Jay E. Gary, "Toward a new macrohistory: An extension to Sardar’s ‘postnormal times,’" Futures 43(2011) 48-51.
  9. ^ Peter Allen and Liz Varga, "Modelling sustainable energy futures for the UK," Futures 57(2014) 28-40.
  10. ^ Ziauddin Sardar, "East West in postnormal times," East-West Affairs 1, no. 1(2013) 3–12
  11. ^ Pierre Berthon and Brian Donnellan, "The greening of IT: Paradox or promise?" Journal of Strategic Information Systems 20(2011) 3-5.
  12. ^ John A. Sweeney, "Signs of postnormal times," East-West Affairs 1, no. 3/4(2013).
  13. ^ Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction (London: Bloomsbury, 2014).

Bibliography[edit]

  • Ziauddin Sardar, "Welcome to postnormal times," Futures 42, no. 5(2010) 435-444.
  • Ziauddin Sardar, "Editorial: East-West in postnormal times," East-West Affairs 1, no. 1(2013) 3–12.
  • Ziauddin Sardar, "The future of Arab Spring in postnormal times," American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 30(2013) 125-136.
  • Ziauddin Sardar, "Postnormal Times Revisited," Futures 67 (2015) 26–39.
  • Ziauddin Sardar, "Postnormal Artefacts," World Future Review 2015, Vol. 7(4) 342–350.
  • Ziauddin Sardar & John A. Sweeney, "The Three Tomorrows of Postnormal Times," Futures 75(2016) 1-13.
  • S. O. Funtowicz and J. R. Ravetz, "Science for the post-normal age," Futures 25(1993) 739–755.
  • Merryl Wyn Davies, "Postnormal times: Are we there yet?," Futures 43(2011) 136-141.
  • John A. Sweeney, "Command-and-control: Alternative futures of geoengineering in an age of global weirding," Futures 57(2014) 1–13.
  • Sam Cole, "Alliterative logic: A theory of postnormal times," Futures 43(2011) 209-215.
  • Sean Cubitt, Robert Hassan, and Ingrid Volkmer, "Postnormal network futures: A rejoinder to Ziauddin Sardar," Futures 42(2010) 617–624.
  • Shirin Elihi, "Here be dragons…Exploring the unknown unknowns," Futures 43(2011) 196-201.
  • Jay E. Gary, "Toward a new macrohistory: An extension to Sardar’s ‘postnormal times,’" Futures 43(2011) 48–51.
  • Jennifer M. Gidley, "Postformal priorities for postnormal times: A rejoinder to Ziauddin Sardar," Futures 42(2010) 625-632.
  • Stephen Healy, "Postnormal science in postnormal times," Futures 43(2011) 202-208.
  • Rakesh Kapoor, "Is there a postnormal time? From the illusion of normality to the design for a new normality," Futures 43(2011) 216-220.
  • Alfonso Montuori, "Beyond postnormal times: The future of creativity and the creativity of the future," Futures 43(2011) 221-227.
  • Gordon Blaine Steffey, "The postnormal lady in red," East-West Affairs 1, no. 2(2013) 5–11.
  • Jordi Serra, "Postnormal governance," East-West Affairs 2, no. 5(2014).
  • Justin Pickard, Gonzo Futurist Manifesto, <http://justinpickard.net/gonzo-futurist-manifesto.pdf>
  • Maja Kuzmanovic and Nik Gaffney, “Enacting Futures in Postnormal Times.” Futures, May 2016. doi:10.1016/j.futures.2016.05.007.

External links[edit]

Centre for Postnormal Policy and Futures Studies, East West University (http://eastwestaffairs.org/cppfs/)

The Postnormal Times (http://www.postnormaltimes.net/)