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Richer Metaphors for Our Future Survival

Narrative autobiography of Anthony Judge as a futurist


Richer Metaphors for Our Future Survival
What does not happen
Richer metaphors
What world do I want to live in?

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Published in a special issue of Futures: the journal of forecasting and planning (28, 6/7, August/September 1996, pp. 604-607), special issue on "What futurists think: stories, methods and visions of the future" edited by Sohail Inayatullah.
A later variant appeared as Concerning "What Futurists Think"
(Futurists: visions, methods and stories (Knowledge Base of Futures Studies, vol 4)


Introduction

I have a lot of difficulties with labels and definitions. But, for the record, I am of Australian nationality, born in Egypt (now 55), brought up in what is now Zimbabwe, with some schooling in the UK. I read chemical engineering at Imperial College (London) and took an MBA at the University of Cape Town. My wife is German. My involvement with computers dates back to 1965.

Since the early 1970s, and to some extent before that, Ihave worked within the framework of the Union of International Associations. This non-profit, research institute was founded in Brussels in 1910 by a Nobel Peace Prizewinner and has had its secretariat there since that time. Over that period it has had many changes of form, function and ambition, but may now be most easily understood as a clearinghouse for information on international non-profit organizations (including governmental bodies). More challenging insights into its work may be obtained by reframing the meanings of: 'union' in terms of the logic of sets and the possibilities of conceptual integration; 'associations' in terms of relationships in general, rather than simply in their organizational form; and 'international' in the sense of transcending conventional territorial boundaries (including those of a non-geographical nature, which offer more functional meanings of 'global').

My concrete responsibilities are for the development of the information system, the publications generated from it, and the research implications associated with it. The UIA survives, virtually unsubsidized, by processing information received from some 20000 organizations into large reference books, such as the three-volume Yearbook of International Organizations and the three-volume Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential.Other publications include a quarterly International Congress Calendar, covering some 10000 future international meetings, and a Who's Who in International Organizations.Some 10 databases are now available on CD-ROM and on the World Wide Web. The most recently developed covers 30,000 'strategies'.

The economic parameters of such an information processing enterprise have created many research-related possibilities, allowing me to write many papers and reports. There have been links to such professional bodies as the International Studies Association, and there have been many occasions to write on the international NGOs - which raise major typological challenges in the debate on civil society and relations to the UN system. There have been contributions to professional conferences concerned with international documentation and classification, notably the Committee for Conceptual and Terminological Analysis and the International Society for Knowledge Organization. The work, dating back to 1972, on 'world problems' and 'human potential', was undertaken in collaboration with the financial support of Mankind 2000 (through James Wellesley-Wesley), which was a catalyst for the emergence of the international futures research movement. It led to interactions with the McHales and with the formative years of the World Futures Studies Federation. It involved contact with various groups concerned with 'interdisciplinarity', most recently the Centre International de Recherches et Etudes Transdisciplinaires (Paris).

Interaction with Johan Caltung over the years led to participation in the United Nations University mega-project on Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development (1978-82), which proved to be a great stimulus to my research on a range of topics.

The data collected by the UIA is highly relational: 80,000 links between organizations, 120,000 links between world problems, 85000 links between strategies, 15,200 links between human development approaches, 23,000 links between human values. Much of my work has been with how to represent networks of such diverse interdisciplinary conceptual relationships in a working database, and what might be done to facilitate comprehension of such complexity.

This resulted in participation in systems research, notably through the Society for General Systems Research and later in the International Network for Social Network Analysis. It also led to much work on Buckminster Fuller's concept of tensegrity, most recently taken up by Stafford Beer. More recently it has involved papers on graphical possibilities, especially now that CD-ROM and the virtual reality markup language (VRML) are accessible to low-budget initiatives. Our data is ready-made for a hypertext environment, possibly with more links-per-megabyte than any other database.

As to where next: I remain challenged by the plethora of information and the inability to capture insight in conferences of the wise so as to make any operational sense out of it. Internet and Bosnia merely serve to bring home the point. My current interest is in how preoccupation with fashionable topics, such as 'sustainable communities', is manipulated to design out the most fruitful cutting edge-eco-sewage systems take priority over the challenges of psychosocial community design. Hence my abiding interest in metaphors for, in this example, how a community processes what it excretes is indeed of great interest in any non-physical ecosystem. With some colleagues, I have met periodically in a 'School of Ignorance' to respond to challenges of this kind.


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