Alternative Futures Research Collaborative

afrc

Alternative Futures Research Collaborative (AFRC) is the UON-FEDUA’s first community-partnered participatory research initiative, that intends to identify, explore, develop, and promote collaborative research projects focused on building new socio-ecological and economic systems in Australia. The initiative is created by UON AFRN in partnership with New Economy Network Australia (NENA) to execute the MOU signed by the two parties.

AFRC mission statement

In response to the inadequate corporate-state responses to our global challenges, we are witnessing an explosion of self-motivated communal, grassroots initiatives and social movements pushing for more meaningful systemic transitions and transformative agendas.

Modern societies are characterised by their fundamental dependence on (1) Capital, (2) Carbon (fossil fuels and extractivism) (3) Consumptive Consumerism, (4) Compulsive (constant urge for endless) Growth through constant commodification and the appropriation of the commons across the world, and more recently the rise of (5) Corporate-welfare State assisted with surveillance capitalism, biotechnology, and fear-hatred mongering that violates social cohesions, ethical settings, and the prospects for peace

The dominant mode of civilisation today is not sustainable due to its inherent dependence on finite, nonrenewable resources; the above five characterisers of modern civilisation deepen this dependency and as a result, accelerate the depletion of our capacity for sustaining organised life. Technology, no matter how advanced, in the absence of radical changes in our social organisation, can only stretch the lifespan of this dependency instead of ending it. New technologies that harness energy from renewable sources still face serious socio-political and economic obstacles and backlashes. Their rate of progression will most likely remain too low to save the planet before it becomes too late (c.f. IPCC 2018 warning) and they may themselves become new means of extending capital’s hegemony, leaving many populations, particularly in the global South, too powerless and unprotected.

The underlying socio-economic and political structures, on which the technological innovations are based, are required to be profoundly changed to liberate human civilisations. This necessitates meaningful changes in the ways we organise our politics, economies, ecology, communities, and societies.

This historical necessity is well understood by many transformative social movements across the world today. The landscape of these movements continues to grow as they respond to the challenges faced by our civilisations. However, most of this landscape is unknown, since they do not make headlines in the mainstream media and are largely neglected by the political and economic elite. Moreover, the landscape is dynamic, diverse, and constantly evolving, adding to the complexities of social transitions we are witnessing today.

The key question is thus how to develop an inclusive yet dynamic knowledge of the landscape of such Alternatives; a knowledge that in turn empowers these transformational actors and practices. Surely, there is an abundance of transformative practices, utopian visions, and progressive transition theories. But one of the greatest dilemmas of our time, confronted by the progressive social forces, can be formulated in this way:

The expectation that out of the marketplace of aimless interactions between countless various forms of post-capital alterity somehow magically a new paradigm will rise that eventually ends the supreme rule of capital before it ends organised life ironically resembles the very core neoliberal myth of invisible hands and the trickle-down fairy-tale.

As the authors of Pluriverse (Kothari et al., 2019: xxxv) articulate: “Given the diversity of imaginative visions across the globe, the question of how to build synergies among them remains open. … Differences, tensions, even contradictions, will exist, but these can become a basis for constructive exchange[s].” In Harcourt’s words (2014: 1325) “The challenge for the future is to build a broad platform for living economies or alternatives building up from community needs, which are inter-generational and gender-aware, based on an ethics of care for the environment.”

There are myriads of possibilities for transformation; diversity is surely an advantage, but also paradoxically is a drawback in the age of systemic failures and looming complex catastrophes. The prime task should then be to integrate our divergent ingenuities and to restructure the plethora of rival progressive voices around their shared principles and common values.

In response to the above historical challenge, AFRC aims to:

  1. Create a Commoning Framework for promoting conversation, convergence, collaboration, coalition and integration among various transformative forces and visions;
  2. Co-create a ‘Knowledge Commons of Alternatives’ (KCA) through exploring, mapping, comparing, examining alternative modes of livelihood, governance, and sociability that transcend capitalist relations and the current crisis-prone dependence on carbon, consumerism, corporate-led politics, and compulsive growth.

Theories and methodologies in humanities and social sciences (HASS) have evolved in response to the challenges of understanding an ever growingly complex reality of our highly sophisticated socio-ecological assemblages and networked societies. New computer-aided research tools for dealing with the complexity and the enormous size of information can be employed to understanding and more importantly enriching the alternatives landscape.

AFRC in association with its community partners, from both national and international civil society, aims to take part in the above challenge by developing new conceptual and cyber platforms for mapping the Alternatives’ landscape and help co-create new Knowledge Commons. We will explore the ways through which various actors express, experience, and remake relationships.

Our projects go beyond exploration and mapping of the alternatives landscape, by employing social network analysis, big data analytics, in-depth case studies and ethnographies, social set analyses, and critical action research to help the transformative initiatives learn from one another, reflect on their limitations and strengths, exchange ideas and experiences, and consolidate and make new alliances, and even possibly take part in integral projects to fulfill more comprehensive transitions through empowering their communities. By using data analytics, we can discover and help build “meta-communities” and thereby empower alternative practices to mobilise resources more effectively to work towards transforming the current crisis-prone socio-economic systems

By employing an integrative, interdisciplinary approach and a general ‘transformative methodological framework’ consisting of methods such as social network analysis, big data mining and analytics, social and community informatics, in-depth case studies and ethnographies of exemplary cases, social set analyses, and (decolonized) critical action research, AFRC will be able to better understand the dynamism of current social transitions, predict future trajectories and empower progressive social forces.

AFRC action plan (2021-2023)

AFRC’s action plan is developed based on the aims of the initiative, as developed and decided through a one-day workshop in July 2019, as well as the results of surveying our members regarding their interests and capacities.

The parties have committed to working together to seek the means and resources necessary to fulfil the objectives of the Alternative Futures Research Collaborative based at the University; the actions are as follows:

  1. Create a ‘Knowledge Commons of Alternatives’ through exploring, mapping, comparing, examining and integrating alternative modes of livelihood, governance, and sociability that transcend capitalist relations and the system’s dependence on carbon, consumerism, corporate politics, and constant growth;
  2. Identify, explore, develop and promote collaborative research projects focused on building new socio-ecological and economic systems or modalities in Australia;
  3. Actively seek financial and in-kind supports required to implement the activities of collaboration including linkage/joint research projects;
  4. Co-host events including research-oriented conferences, symposia, and training workshops;
  5. Coordinate and promote collaborative research and facilitate the publication of outcome to ensure that the Research Collaborative contributes to the development of the knowledge commons, supports social projects, and informs actions that transform Australian society; and
  6. Create an open and collaborative online platform for mutual learning and sharing experiences amongst the academics and practitioners involved in the projects.

The above actions are visualised in Figure 2.

The ultimate goal is to co-generate a self-empowering knowledge commons (in joint efforts with our partner communal/organisational forces that actively strive to make alternative futures) that would socially promote the following ‘interrelated’ Ideals (see also, Kothari et al., 2019: xxx):

  1. Ecological health and balance;
  2. Social well-living and flourishing quality of life;
  3. Economic democratisation and cross-communal solidarity economies;
  4. Deep Democracy and participatory planning;
  5. Liberation ethics of cultural diversity, perpetual peace, conviviality, autonomy, and knowledge democracy;

As the first step towards the ultimate goal, we will begin with launching a series of conversations around the above listed five Post-Capitalist Ideals (some through open webinars) and will co-design and conduct a central pilot linkage project that maps and examines the ways through which these five ideals are perceived and practically pursued by key actors/forces in our society.

Accordingly, our foundational questions are as follows:

  1. How is each one of the above Ideals defined by the leading transformative forces? And, how are these ideals pursued in practice by such forces? These questions will be answered through mapping value systems, exploring their (in)consistencies, and locating their bearers in the terrains of ideas and political praxes.
  2. How different are these alternative notions of Ideals to the conventional and well-established theoretical/metaphysical notions? This question will be answered by mapping the existing theory-practice nexuses among the transformative forces.
  3. How are these forces related to one another (actually and potentially)? This question will be answered by using ‘community detection’ methods (employed through social network analytics) and through mapping continuities and discontinuities and exploring common grounds and sources of division.
  4. How do the ways the ideals are constructed correspond to their associated alternative modes of livelihood (new economies) and vice versa? (see Figure 1).
  5. How can common agendas be made, and solidarities be consolidated, and joint projects be set up among these forces to effectively facilitate a transition to ecologically well-balanced, self-flourishing communal lives, socio-economically just, deeply democratic, and morally sane societies? And how can their associated value systems be translated into broader politics and be integrated into a more holistic or systemic transformation?  Answering this set of questions requires social experimentation and critical action research through reorganising the landscape of alternatives.

Figure 1. The relationship between ideals/values and modes of livelihood

figure1

Figure 2. Alternative Futures Research Collaborative Action Plan

figure2

AFRC consists of two steering groups:

  1. Collaborative Research Committee (CRC) to:
    1. Actively seek financial and in-kind supports required to implement the activities of collaboration including linkage/joint research projects and facilitate joint publications;
    2. Design and pursue core projects with NENA to execute the signed MOU; this includes identifying, exploring, developing and promoting collaborative research projects focused on building new socio-ecological and economic systems or modalities in Australia;
  2. Engagement and Impact (EI) Committee to:
    1. (Co-)organise and (co-)host events including research-oriented conferences, symposia, and training workshops;
    2. Coordinate and promote community-partnered projects to ensure that AFRC contributes to the development of the knowledge commons, supports game-changing regional/national social/practical projects, and informs actions that transform Australian society; and
    3. Create an open and collaborative platform for mutual learning, professional training, and sharing experiences amongst the academics and practitioners involved in regional/national social projects.

AFRC enjoys special support form its external Advisory Council of Experts that is comprised of distinguished academics, policy specialists, research end-users, and practitioners.

AFRC Advisory Council of Experts
Members of the CR committee
Members of the EI Committee
External Advisory Council

Dr. S A Hamed Hosseini

Dr. James Juniper

Mr. Matthew Allen

Dr. Michelle Maloney

Dr. S A Hamed Hosseini

Ms. Meaghan Burkett

A/Prof. Kate Senior

A/Prof. Hans A Baer

A/Prof. Penny Buykx

Prof. Simon Springer

Dr. Sidsel Grimstad

Prof. Marcus Foth

 

Dr. Michelle Maloney

Prof. James Goodman

 

A/Prof. Sara Motta

Mr. Steven Liaros

 

Dr. Liam Phelan

Prof. Duncan McDuie-Ra

 

A/Prof. Kate Senior

 
 

Prof. Simon Springer

 
 Dr. Nisha Thapliyal