THE IMAGINATION AGENCY

What do just futures actually look like? 

a world without...

racism
extractivism
money

capitalism
imperialism
violence

patriarchy
oppression
private property

...?

What do these futures feel, taste & look like?
How do they function?

And how can those futures become our common reality?

At THE IMAGINATION AGENCY we explore techniques to train the muscle of imagination. Focusing on those who have a thorough understanding of what's fundamentally wrong in our respective societies. To help develop and cultivate knowledge on desirable and just futures – and eventually: practises of alternatives.

But why imagine?, you may ask.

»What we cannot imagine cannot come into being.«

- bell hooks

»We are in an imagination battle. Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown and Renisha McBride and so many others are dead because, in some white imagination, they were dangerous. And that imagination is so respected that those who kill, based on an imagined, racialized fear of Black people, are rarely held accountable.«

- adrienne maree brown

on capitalist realism:
»the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.«

- mark fisher

photographic impressions of the imagination dinners 

photographic impressions of the imagination dinners 

IMAGINATION DINNERS

"We have a crisis of imagination" is one of those sentences you'll regularly hear during conferences, discussions and debates on social transformation or the several crisis of our time. Why do we invest so many of our resources into proving the very existence of injustices and multiple crisis, and so little into the discussion of possible solutions? How can we move from the deconstruction of the present to the construction of just futures? From analysis to imagination: to what else there could be; to what else there already is. 

In 1975, Toni Morrison said:

The function, the very serious function of racism […] is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. […] None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.

There will always be something else. Another absurdity, another provocation on which intellectuals, scholars, writers, activists and indeed regular citizens, especially those subjected to and objectified by these narratives, expend their lives, instead of simply being. Instead of living their ideals, putting them into practice. Instead of moving on from the analysis and deconstruction of the present, into the imagination and construction of just, desirable futures.

In a 2004 article, the investigative journalist Ron Suskind quotes one of George W. Bush’s political advisers as saying: 

We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality […] we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too […]. We’re history’s actors […] and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

With public debates on climate, gender or racial injustice often revolving around the very existence of these realities, a significant amount of resources of social justice movements is depleted by the burden of evidence. Meanwhile, this generates a lack of public discourse on alternative, more desirable futures and possible ways of implementation. With little information on how to actually act, speak, consume, interact, love, let alone live a more just life, these debates force individuals into lethargy and fear of mistakes, flaws and wrongdoings and alienation. Justice movements are then not only played off against each other, eventually, they are also misunderstood as drivers of division, when, in fact, they point at the preexisting divisions in our societies. To overcome these constructed boundaries, the study of just futures becomes an urgent necessity. 

But:

Who get's to imagine alternative futures?

Who is humiliated into merely survival?


THE BACKSTORY

In 2020 together with our team at future_s [a feminist research- and advocacy organisation for desirable futures we founded in 2020], we ran several backcasting workshops with various marginalised groups to identify desirable futures, search for patterns and allow for new alliances. However, the sheer imagination of a desirable future within which the current systems of oppression have ceased to exist, appeared to be a much bigger obstacle than originally anticipated. However, imaginations, predictions of and the future itself are constructed and colonised predominantly by individuals not equipped with this knowledge, these experiences, this deep analysis of what is fundamentally wrong today – as it is happening right in this moment of time –, our common future will likely degenerate into a somewhat changed, maybe even slightly improved manifestation of what is fundamentally wrong today. It is then, when we allow ourselves to imagine a different world, that we’ll understand the dystopian absurdity of the now. This is when we’ll take on the courage to do things radically differently. Dare to use the tools we have at hand, our power, our knowledge to act differently.

One of the results of the backcasting workshops we ran with various marginalised groups to identify desirable futures was: No matter how much we twisted these workshops styles, they were not made for marginalised groups whose visions of desirable futures have been humiliated into merely survival and the right to exist, but were, in fact, designed around those who were seeking to either sustain or enhance their current status of power in various future scenarios.

So we went into redesigning these workshops, explored alternatives and eventually created the  IMAGINATION DINNERS.

Together with our THE IMAGINATION AGENCY TEAM we have developed a prototype: The IMAGINATION DINNERS. These are designed to train our muscle of imagination, shift our attention from what there is to what there could be, and reframe our power in the now.

From a world of commons/without private property to worlds without racism and oppression, to the reimagination of the roles of literature, theatre or music in a just world, we have dived into several imaginations with experts, academics, practitioners, artists with a diverse and wide range of connection to the respective topics. E.g. at the second dinner, together with experts on local engagement, homelessness, city data science, politics, architecture & infrastructure, we explored the question: What if we lived in a world in which we humans, here in the industrialised and urban areas of the West, were capable of truly living locally? 

With this work, however, we are not only exploring, but slowly learning how to answer yet another question: 

What would a world look like,
where the imagination of just futures are not only possible,
but also accessible to all?
Especially to those humiliated into aiming
to merely survive?

We strongly believe that the transformation into a just world is not only possible, but it's already happening. At THE IMAGINATION AGENCY, we aim to move beyond what there is. From reaction into action, from deconstruction to construction, from analysis to practise. Towards what there already is.


THE TEAM

KÜBRA GÜMÜSAY

founder & co-director
writer & researcher

SOPHIE SY

musician & activist 

NÜRSEN KAYA

co-founder of eeden

PASCAL SCHMIDT

dancer & founder
of house of brownies

ALICE GEDAMU

 co-director
systemic coach & consultant

TRANG SCHWENKE-LAM

scholar & therapist

JESSICA LOUIS

designer & co-founder of eeden

ROSA BRANDT

founding co-director
of future matters

photo credit: Swetlana Holz

credit for profile photos (left to right): private, Anja Weber, private, André Giesemann, private, private, Carolin Windel, Future Matters.

Kübra Gümüşay is a bestselling author, speaker and founder of award winning organisations and campaigns. She is currently a fellow at The New Institute in Hamburg, researching just futures, real utopias and politics of imagination.

She is the author of the bestselling book “Sprache § Sein” (“Speaking and Being”, Profile Books), founder of several award winning campaigns and associations – most recently eeden, a feminist co-creation space in Hamburg (selected as „Kultur- und Kreativpiloten Deutschland“ in 2019), and future_s, a feminist research- and advocacy organisation for desirable futures. In 2018, Forbes Magazine selected her as one of “30 under 30” in Europe. In 2021 she was recipient of the Tarabya Artist in Residency Fellowship of the German Kulturakademie. And in 2022/3, a Senior Mercator Fellow at the Centre for Research in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (CRASSH), Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence and a Visiting Fellow at Jesus College, University of Cambridge. For more information visit her website.

FOUNDING CO-DIRECTOR

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