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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 Fourteen Workshop: Step into the Looking Glass—Imagining Our Social Connections with a Larger Community


Workshop: Step into the Looking Glass—Imagining Our Social Connections with a Larger Community

We engage imagination inspired by popular culture as a fun way to connect with others through fictional characters, story-worlds and through this surface shared issues of concern.

The “Step into the Looking Glass” workshop invites participants to engage with well-known popular culture content worlds to build social connections and begin imagining community. Defined as the narrative universes contained in books, TV shows, movies, comic-books, and other popular culture or fan spaces, content worlds are used to surface cultural interests as an entry into a deeper exploration of shared values and connections.

The workshop is informed by fannish engagements with content worlds that draw on practices associated with participatory cultures, which Henry Jenkins et al. (2006) define as cultural practices that have “relatively low barriers” to entry, strong support to create and share content, and informal mentorship structures, participatory cultures are defined by members who “believe their contributions matter” and feel a “social connection” with each other as those with more experience mentor others. Crucially, participatory cultures allow individuals and communities to ←121 | 122→contribute in whatever way they can and support a broad range of possible entry points into participation.

Fig. 14.1. Step into the looking glass. Image Credit: Greg Whicker

The “Step into the Looking Glass” workshop opens with a brainstorm to surface popular culture content that participants know and like. Participants then...

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