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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 Six Turning the Chairs to Face the Table—Bowling Green, Kentucky


Turning the Chairs to Face the Table—Bowling Green, Kentucky

In September 2017, we ran an all day civic imagination symposium in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The event brought together community members concerned about the changing nature of work in the state. Though our participants certainly had a shared concern, they didn’t necessarily agree on how to tackle the challenges they faced. To engage the perspectives in the room, we had to be sensitive in handling divisive terms and dystopian stories as they surfaced. We also had to listen for silences as much as we listened to what was said. And, we had to acknowledge the role that fear, specifically fear of the future, played in stifling creativity. This was a sensitive session with high stakes that taught us a lot about the civic imagination and dissent.

When Tom1 participated in our workshop session in Bowling Green, Kentucky, he talked about his working class family history, his roots in Appalachia, and his ←59 | 60→uncertainty about a future he saw for himself and others in the region. At one point, he even pulled out a 1977 Time Magazine and pointed to the man, a miner, featured on the cover. This was his uncle, he shared. To Tom, his uncle reminded him of the changes that had forced many “to finally explore a world where coal jobs—and jobs in general—are scarce.” Reluctantly, he too would accept moving forward if the region’s “proud past, deeply rooted in...

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