Mel Mcree copy

Amplified Publishing Category

Children’s Future Imaginaries

by Dr. Mel McCree

My research focuses on cultures of care, creativity and education for future survival, within our everyday lives and particularly with those less heard and across species. I am one of the research fellows in the Amplified Publishing cohort, as part of Bristol+Bath Creative R+D. In my fellowship, I am connecting conversations around the digital divide, child poverty and the wellbeing of future generations. Such ‘wicked problems’ require complex, systemic thinking and affect us all, particularly in these times of pandemic, economic austerity and climate crises, where we need to help each other through mutual aid and do things differently.

This fellowship has taken me out of my comfort zone in a good way, as researching the digital world is not my area of expertise. However, with so many of our needs met online, addressing equity and inclusion in our digital lives is necessary to increase representation and amplify voices. I hope to focus upon responsible innovation and child friendly approaches, to drill down into tangible ways that we can address some of the planet-sized challenges we face. The mess we are in is, indeed, overwhelming, yet it is much worse for those growing up now. How can we act intergenerationally to support them? What if we each try to meet just one challenge? Together, we could make a big difference for future generations. Through my research, I raise questions about the purpose of our digital life, how we reshape it for the better, for the wellbeing of future generations and whether we can rethink the frames we work within online and foster mutual aid.

I have chosen to start my series of blog posts with a personal look at envisioning our futures. The ways in which we do our ‘futuring’ makes a difference to the realities we co-create, in critiquing multiple anticipated outcomes and better preparing for them. Here, I explore issues of equity in children’s future imaginaries, in relation to their digital lives.

Children’s future imaginaries

When I was a child, waaaay back in the last century, I imagined a heavily divided future, with people flying in jet packs above a subterranean world occupied by groundlings who either couldn’t afford jet fuel, or chose not to fly.

Image Ref: Williams X-Jet "The Wasp"

Not especially original, but IMHO Hollywood hasn’t done much better. Inequitable, autocratic futures are standard representations in the mainstream collective imaginary. Arguably, we benefit from a well-written cautionary tale or two, especially if based upon reality, such as Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. Given that, for many, those realities are on the increase, we could use a positive focus. We need collaborative ‘futuring’ such as Hoffman et al’s (2021) techniques for active imagination of the future. These techniques can help us to negotiate radically fair and shared solutions, for one person’s utopia is another’s dystopia. Let’s not end up in Gilead.

In adversity, people at the sharp edge innovate and adapt. Children and young people are especially adept at innovation, yet their voices are not listened to enough. We know this from the challenges faced in meeting Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which gives children the right to have their views given due weight in all matters affecting them. This right to expression runs alongside their right to participation, which is rarely met in full. I’m interested in learning how children and young people find ways around their everyday life challenges, within their particular places and communities. How do they counter the digital divide?

Amplified publishing plays a key role here, in amplifying lesser heard voices and stories, and offering constructive pathways for children and young people to manifest their ideas for a survivable future. When I reflect back, my imaginings most likely came from personal experience of child poverty. When I was eleven years old, I learnt that the fenland area I lived in was predicted to be underwater by 2050. I let go of my attachment to that place and added lifeboats, forest communities and mountain hideouts to my imagined future, then sought them out in reality. I’m still seeking. As part of this fellowship, I am working together with others on more social futurings and locating some of my blind spots, particularly around working in an equitable and inclusive way.

The rich-poor gap has grown exponentially in my lifetime. Synonymously, the chances of our future survival have decreased dramatically, due to our self-made sixth mass extinction. Finally, during my lifetime, the internet has appeared and transformed our world. This has led me to ask many questions. How do we use the internet to powerfully and equitably imagine our future survival into being? Who gets to use it? Which part of our online existence acts as a lifeboat and which part acts as the flood? Importantly, who can even get on a lifeboat and are there enough? When you think of the future that children growing up now around the world will inhabit, what are your questions and concerns?

Look out for future posts in Mel’s series, ‘Ideas from near future survivors’, which investigate equitable futures, the digital divide and present day workarounds. Coming soon: young people’s social hacking in US black and latino communities, and using futures literacy to respond to the climate crisis.


Article Image Credit: Author’s son watches jellyfish Mel McCree, 2021

Jesse Hoffman, Peter Pelzer, Loes Albert, Tine Béneker, Maarten Hajer & Astrid Mangnus (2021) A futuring approach to teaching wicked problems, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/03098265.2020.1869923

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)