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Practicing Futures

A Civic Imagination Action Handbook


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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Chapter Two Fantasy Can Help Us Breathe—Muslim Youth Group, Los Angeles


Fantasy Can Help Us Breathe—Muslim Youth Group, Los Angeles

Working with the American Muslim Youth Group (MYG) confirmed that imagining and fantasy are important to our civic lives. In 2013, MYG reached out to us about running a workshop for their summer Leadership Program. These youth were under constant pressure to represent, even defend, Islam to the people in their lives. Inviting them to imagine and dream about the future freed them and allowed them to then return to their lives with a new appreciation for their, own and collective, agency. This experience also taught us that deploying the civic imagination in community contexts has to be porous enough to accommodate a change mid-stream. In this case, we retooled the workshop to encourage fantasy. We also had to trust that the civic and political would surface eventually. Through this, we gave the youth much needed permission to break out of their fraught and politicized identities as American Muslims and let their imagination roam.

Our journey into developing creative workshops began in 2013. The analysis phase of our multi-year research on youth, popular culture, and civic engagement ←25 | 26→had yielded insights into how young people were connecting cultural and political engagement, embracing new media affordances, and mobilizing communities around issues of concern. While sharing our findings through traditional academic channels was important to us, we felt there were additional opportunities to connect these insights to tools and practices that could be helpful to a broader...

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