CfP: Plausibility in Futures Studies (Journal)

“Covering methods and practices of futures studies, the journal Futures (Futures: The Journal of Policy, Planning and Futures Studies) seeks to examine possible and alternative futures of all human endeavours.” As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the journal, we call for a range of papers that deal with one of the central theoretical and practical issues in Futures Studies which is what we mean by ‘plausible’: What is a plausible future?

The concept of plausibility has a long history in Futures Studies and practice. Indeed, there is consensus around the view that the goal of Futures Studies should not be to merely focus on probable futures and quantitatively evaluate their consequences. If our goal is to open the mind to alternative futures and foster creative thinking, we might want to consider a range of possible futures whose likelihood cannot be determined.

But sufficiently complex problems with a long-term temporal scale generate many possible futures. For pragmatic reasons, we cannot explore them all, and need to narrow down our investigation to a subset of possible futures that remain challenging and are relevant to the problem at hand. Yet these criteria (challenge and relevance) on their own may still be insufficient to yield a small number of significant alternative futures to explore. Several criteria have been put forward, but perhaps none has been so ubiquitously appealed to than “plausibility.” In Futures Studies, plausible and implausible futures are routinely distinguished. However, both in theory and practice, the criteria for characterizing those futures remain either vague, objectionable, or implicit. In practice, the criteria used to assess plausibility of a future often boil down to its degree of deviation from the most probable futures. Plausibility, then, turns into a redundant concept and does not help to fill the gap between the narrow space of probable futures and the broad space of possible futures.

The goal of this issue of Futures is to make decisive progress in addressing the problem of plausibility. Is this a notion that can be pinned down and be made explicit thanks to concepts and tools borrowed from other disciplines? Or does plausibility have to remain partly implicit and based on impossible to fully articulate background knowledge and interests? Does it have to be abandoned altogether and replaced by other notions that could fulfill the same functions?

The contributions we expect for this issue of Futures should endeavor to advance the debate over the theory and practical use of plausibility in Futures Studies in novel ways and offer concrete pathways to make theoretical progress or change in futures practice. This special issue builds on three pillars: (1) Futures Studies practice; (2) Futures studies theory; (3) relevant work on plausibility in other fields and social practices that could help to rethink plausibility in Futures Studies. Thus, possible topics that we encourage include, but are not limited to:

1.     Plausibility in Futures Studies Practice

Papers could address the role of plausibility in different epistemic, cultural, social, and political communities using Futures Studies. Is the notion of a plausible future equally important within all of them? How is it is construed, used, and challenged, for example, vis-à-vis surprising developments? Is plausibility deployed differently in high stake contexts where value pluralism about desirable futures prevails, such as societal futures, technological futures, the futures of food, the futures of governance? Do political or economic assumptions about the feasibility of some visions of the future (ideals, utopias), or the lack of desirability of other visions (dystopias, catastrophes) influence plausibility judgments? Does plausibility contribute to consensus-building or are some familiar clichés about emotionally resonating futures reinforced through participatory futures processes? Are there cases where a Futures Study team deliberately selected implausible futures they deemed worth exploring? What did they learn from such experience and what were the outcomes of their study, how was their choice perceived by their peers, study commissioners and users?

2.    Plausibility in Futures Studies Theory, Methods, and Approaches

Papers could examine plausibility in Futures Studies with respect to a variety of theories, methods, and approaches in Futures Studies, and build on general theories, as well as more specific scholarship e.g., in the wake of Cynthia Selin’s Plausibility Project 2009-2012. See For instance, how is plausibility theorized in modelling (boundary conditions), in contrast to scenario-building or visioning? Do some theorists provide tools for better conceptions of plausibility or compellingly argue for its dismissal? Should plausibility be understood as a descriptive notion or as a normative one? Is plausibility an attribute of worlds, events, entities, or explanations? How do various conceptions of plausible futures relate to tensions between realist and constructivist ontologies in Futures Studies?

3.    Transferring Notions of Plausibility from Other Fields 

None of us wants to reinvent the wheel. Relevant fields that have worked out the notion of plausibilityindependently of Futures Studies include history, law, economics, STS, anthropology, sociology, narratology, linguistics, cognitive science, psychology, philosophy, informal logic, urban planning, architecture, and design. Could rival or complementary notions of plausibility developed to answer other questions shed light on debates in Futures Studies? For instance, could pluralistic theories of explanations in philosophy help us to evaluate the plausibility of different explanations of how we could get from here to a possible future? Does narratology offer us tools to rethink plausibility’s aesthetic function in addition to its epistemic one? How could ways of conceiving and reconstructing plausible pasts from dispersed traces inform the construction of plausible futures?

Deadlines and submission instructions

It is advisable to discuss an abstract of the paper with the Guest Editors before submitting the full paper to the journal

·       Papers may be submitted from March 1st 2018

·       Deadline for submissions of new papers is August 31st 2018

·       Expected date of online publication of papers is 3-4 weeks from final acceptance

·       Each accepted paper will be published in print in the next available volume after acceptance.

·       When all papers for the Special Issue are accepted, a virtual special issue will be available online containing all the final papers.

·       Expected final date of Special Issue is February 2019.

Please read the guidance to authors before submitting:


Submit papers online at:

·       Click on “Submit Your Paper”

·       Log into the Elsevier online submission system ‘EVISE’, registering if you are not already registered.

·       On the page titled Enter Manuscript Information:

·       Select type of Issue: “SI: Plausibility in Futures Studies”

·       Article type: (normally full-length article)

About the Journal:

Futures® is an international, refereed, multidisciplinary journal concerned with medium and long-term futures of cultures and societies, science and technology, economics and politics, environment and the planet, individuals and humanity.

Covering methods and practices of futures studies, the journal publishes new contributions to knowledge which examine possible and alternative futures of all human endeavours, as well as humankind's multiple anticipatory relationships with its futures. Futures® seeks to promote divergent and pluralistic visions and ideas about the future based on research and scholarly reasoning.

Posted: 16-04-2018 | Updated: 14-10-2022