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Practicing Futures

A Civic Imagination Action Handbook

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Gabriel Peters-Lazaro and Sangita Shresthova

The real world is full of challenges and the sheer weight of problems facing us can stifle the genius of our collective human creativity at exactly the time when we desperately need imaginative and innovative solutions. Responding to this, Practicing Futures: A Civic Imagination Action Handbook harnesses our connections to popular culture and taps the boundless potential of human imagination to break free of assumptions that might otherwise trap us in repetitive cycles of alienation. Utopias and dystopias have long been used to pose questions, provoke discussions, and inspire next steps and are helpful because they encourage long view perspectives. Building on the work of the Civic Imagination Project at the University of Southern California, the Handbook is a practical guide for community leaders, educators, creative professionals, and change-makers who want to encourage creative, participatory, and playful approaches to thinking about the future. This book shares examples and models from the authors’ work in diverse communities. It also provides a step-by-step guide to their workshops with the objective of making their approach accessible to all interested practitioners. The tools are adaptable to a variety of local contexts and can serve multiple purposes from community and network building to idea generation and media campaign design by harnessing the expansive capacity for imagination within all of us.

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Foreword: The Work of Imagining Communities

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Henry Jenkins

Today, our popular memories see the 1940s as a golden age for civic engagement in America. The Second World War brought the United States together around a common cause—to overcome fascism, to make the world safe for democracy—and returning home, the “Greatest Generation” sought to build a stronger, more affluent, more forward-thinking country. These were the “good old days” in many of today’s narratives of civic decline. But, writing in the post-war period, political scientist George B. Huszar (1945) worried that the nation might soon experience the kind of “disintegration” of democratic culture which enabled the rise of dictators in Europe and Japan. And this was because democracy had become a thing of words rather than actions. Huszar writes in his 1945 book, Practical Applications of Democracy, “Democracy is something you do; not something you talk about. It is more than a form of government, or an attitude or opinion. It is participation.” (xiii)

Huszar made a core distinction between “talk-democracy” and “do-democracy,” arguing that democracy should be embedded into the practices of everyday life. Talk-Democracy, he suggests, is often top-down, as people consent to being ←xiii | xiv→governed by people who are all too ready to tell us what to do: “The teacher tells it to the children, the preacher tells it to the congregation, the employer tells it to his employees, and the politician tells it to the voters. We add together all this telling and call it...

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