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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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Section One Overview

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Overview

This section provides a thematic and conceptual overview of the civic imagination as a framework based on its six key functions, which map a rough pathway from personal to collective empowerment. Each function of the civic imagination reflects our belief that the fictive and the utopian imagination can open up new possibilities for consideration that would not otherwise arise. Our concept of the civic imagination grew from the research and writing of By Any Media Necessary: the New Youth Activism (2016) and Popular Culture and the Civic Imagination: Case Studies of Creative Social Change (2020) . The concept matured and took on a greater sense of focus and urgency when our research group began working to translate the findings of that project into creative participatory interventions.

Having seen the power of creating and harnessing shared story worlds and fantastical narratives as tools of civic engagement in case studies of the Harry Potter Alliance, the DREAMers movement and elsewhere, there was a strong desire to create pedagogic resources that would help other communities harness and adapt such creative practices to their own needs and logics. Our approach to the civic imagination is guided by five conceptual themes that inform both our theoretical and practical work. Civics, imagination, worldbuilding, commitment to participation, and working through “any media” are crucial to the experiences and tools shared in this Handbook.

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