Sub-theme 42: Anticipation: Models, Technology and Knowledge in the Making of Organizational Futures

Christina Garsten
Stockholm University, Sweden, & Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Mikkel Flyverbom
Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
Afshin Mehrpouya
HEC Paris, France

Call for Papers

It is a crucial feature of organizations to attempt to look into the future – to foresee risks, challenges and opportunities, and ultimately try to shape the future. Anticipating the future speaks to the core of organizations’ aspirations to manage, shape and control the social, economic and political activities they are engaged in, now and onwards. Organizations employ a wide variety of sophisticated tools, relying on both qualitative and quantitative methods (metrics, risk maps, indexes, forecasting and scenario models), in their efforts to imagine possibilities, estimate probabilities, sketch trajectories, and frame choices. States, business corporations, and civil society organizations find knowledge about the future to be indispensable for a number of purposes.
Facing increasingly complex global crises, organizations increasingly depend on calculative representations of the future to reframe those crises as “manageable risks” and/or to reframe them as opportunities (Power, 2008; 2009). Such knowledge is used to mobilize support for policy proposals, to ground decision‐making in reasonable levels of facticity and predictability, and to project the appearance of professional credibility and legitimacy in an environment of contingencies (Nelson et al., 2008, p. 546). And although such ‘anticipatory knowledge’ is often seen as informed speculation, qualified guesswork, or science fiction, its prevalence in organizational operations speaks for itself. Anticipatory knowledge has come to appear as an important prerequisite for organizations striving to position themselves as accountable for their actions, past, present and future, in other words, to execute ‘anticipatory governance’ (Barben et al., 2008; Guston, 2014). Such anticipatory knowledge forms and inscriptions which help construct shared representations of the future are also crucial in mediating organizational relations and in maintaining/stabilizing market organization (Miller & O’Leary, 2007).
This sub‐theme invites contributions that investigate the practices of foresight, imagination and anticipatory work in organizations. We wish to inspire a discussion on the underlying cultural rationalities and forms of knowledge that make up the basis of scenarios and models for future governance and management, and to work towards a deepened understanding of the crucial tenets of knowledge that undergird anticipation. We work from the assumption that scenarios for the future are far from innocent exercises of imagination. On the contrary, they have the capacity to shape people’s perceptions of what constitute ‘global problems’, ‘global solutions’ and ‘imaginable futures’; they can shape organizational agendas in ways that have concrete implications for decision-making and for the allocation of resources. They are, in other words, potentially performative (MacKenzie, 2004). The process of production, the underlying values and assumptions, consumption and the diverse performativities of anticipatory knowledge in organizations have not received much attention as of yet. We believe this is a crucial task for organization scholars.
Questions that may be raised are:

  • What types of foresight, prediction, and scenario models are used in organizations?
  • What historical processes and genealogies have led to the emergence of contemporary forms of anticipatory knowledge such as risk management, financial forecasts, scenario analysis, etc.?
  • Which role does organizational context play in the production and distribution of foresight tools and scenario models?
  • What organizational interests and priorities are mobilized and negotiated, and what organizational tensions and questions about legitimacy arise?
  • What are the technologies, techniques and types of data at work in organizational anticipation?
  • What different forms of knowledge are produced for purposes of anticipation, and what are their conditions and consequences?
  • Who are the professionals generating, legitimating and disseminating foresight tools and scenarios?
  • What are the cultural and epistemic assumptions regarding time and temporality that shape professional foresight practices and imaginaries?
  • What contested political processes, competing knowledge forms and epistemic values are involved in establishing, stabilizing or disrupting anticipatory knowledge regimes?
  • How does anticipatory knowledge, and its associated formulations of problems and solutions for imagined future challenges distribute the roles and responsibilities of different actors?
  • What are the mutually constitutive relations between the articulation of organizational strategy and anticipatory knowledge?

In the larger perspective, the sub‐theme aims to contribute to studies of the making and governance of organizational futures by initiating explorations into anticipation as an organizational phenomenon and a conceptual vocabulary.


  • Barben, D., Fisher, E., Selin, C., & Guston, D.H. (2008): “Anticipatory governance of nanotechnology: Foresight, engagement, and integration.” In: E.J. Hackett, O. Amsterdamska, M.Lynch & J. Wajcman (eds.): The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 979–1000.
  • Guston, D.H. (2014): “Understanding ‘anticipatory governance’.” Social Studies of Science, 44 (2), 218–242.
  • MacKenzie, D. (2004): “The big, bad wolf and the rational market: Portfolio insurance, the1987 crash and the performativity of economics.” Economy and Society, 33 (3), 303–334.
  • Miller, P., & O’Leary, T. (2007): “Mediating instruments and making markets: Capital budgeting, science and the economy.” Accounting, Organizations and Society, 32 (7), 701–734.
  • Nelson, N., Geltzer, A., & Hilgartner, S. (2008): “Introduction. The anticipatory state: making policy‐relevant knowledge about the future.” Science & Public Policy, 35 (8), 546–550.
  • Power, M. (2008): Organized Uncertainty. Designing a World of Risk Management. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Power, M. (2009): “The risk management of nothing.” Accounting, Organizations and Society, 34 (6), 849–855.
Christina Garsten is Professor of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University, Sweden, and Professor at Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. Her current research engages with the role of knowledge, transparency, anticipation, and advocacy in global organizing processes and novel forms of governance.
Mikkel Flyverbom is Associate Professor at the Copenhagen Business School, Denmark. His work explores the intersection of digital transformations, communication and organization, such as questions about transparency and visibilities, datafication and knowledge production, and control and anticipation.
Afshin Mehrpouya is an Assistant Professor of Accounting and Management Control Systems at HEC Paris, France. His research is broadly in accounting and transnational governance. He currently studies the role of the discourses and practices of “transparency” and emerging calculative knowledge forms such as rankings and ratings in transnational governance regimes.