2019-09-19 at 12.01.38 PM
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Accounting the Future : An Ethnography of the European Spallation Source
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2.4.3 Big Futures, Little Futures

Michael (2017) argues that an analytical distinction can be made, in a preliminary
way, between “big futures” — namely, “those futures that imply very substantial,
qualitative changes (e.g. some sort of epochal ‘break’), that are widespread and far-
reaching, whose spatio-temporal horizons are relatively large-scale” — and “little
futures”, i.e. futures that entail “much smaller, more circumscribed changes, whose
impact describes a relatively tighter spatio-temporal horizon” (p 510). In particular,
he uses the term “little futures” to connote “the local unfolding of everyday life” and
to point to “the processes of emergence that are attached to mundane social (and
technological) processes and practices” (ibid). Michael asks: “Given the sense of a
panoply of ‘big futures’, how are ‘little futures’ to be accounted for? How do we
discuss everyday processes of emergence in relation to the seeming parade of grand
social transformations?” (ibid). Michael points to a tendency in contemporary society
(but also in social science) to privilege “grand futures”, particularly those of
traditional actors — such as the media, policy-makers, and industry analysts, while
marginalizing the mundane, ordinary practices involved in futuring, the daily, routine
and local work of say scientists and technicians and “their” futures.

Michael suggests that one way to answer such questions is to consider mundane
technologies and practices as “the ‘media’ of big futures” (p 516). Thus, drawing on
Lefebvre (1947), he argues that even a woman buying a bag of sugar can disclose
not only such things as her class background or the “state of the markets” but also
“the sum total of capitalist society, the nation and its history” as well as point to “the
big future immanent in these” (ibid). And thinking with Shove (2003), who analyses
everyday practices of cleanliness and comfort that entail use of such technologies as
shower heads, heating appliances, washing machines, and so on, Michael argues:
“these mundane technologies can be critically regarded as contributing to all manner
of environmental problems” (p 516). In these accounts, according to Michael, the