Uncertain Futures: Imaginaries, Narratives, and Calculation in the Economy

Jens Beckert, Richard Bronk (eds.)


"Uncertain Futures is a stimulating and diverse collection of papers about the consequences of radical uncertainty and how they are managed in practice. As the clear and comprehensive introduction by the editors explains, devices such as narratives, stories, conversations and 'imaginaries' give shape to expectations of the future."
William A. Allen (National Institute of Economic & Social Research), The Society of Professional Economists, March 29, 2019.
"Beckert and Bronk suggest that economic actors strongly anchor their expectations in narratives that are akin to literary fictions. The point is that literary narratives are read because they are convincing, not because they are true. Plausible (because convincing) imaginaries provide the basis for decision-making and help one to overcome radical uncertainty. ...This theme is further developed and illustrated by the volume’s contributors who provide vivid historical and empirical examples of how fictional expectations are formed and debated in various fields. These range from financial markets and credit rating agencies to economic forecasting institutions, central banking, geopolitics and technological innovations. … Overall, Uncertain Futures is a thought-provoking and analytically helpful book. It corrects some established assumptions in economics and sociology and proposes directions for further research in such important fields as decision-making under uncertainty, economic microfoundations and sociology of expectations."
Ekaterina Svetlova, LSE Review of Books, February 18th, 2019.
"I commend this perspective to economists. This is exciting intellectual territory and seems to me rather important at a time when uncertainty about the future seems more uncertain than ever."
Diane Coyle, Imagining the economy, The Enlightened Economist, August 18, 2018.
"Collectively, the essential introduction and the selected chapters form a powerful and well-developed contribution to current knowledge about the economy in the social sciences. [...] Beckert’s and Bronk’s Uncertain Futures is highly recommended for a wide range of readers, being able to speak to economic sociologists, anthropologists, political economists, psychologists and, why not, economists, too."
Dylan Cassar, The British Journal of Sociology, book review, published online 31 January 2019.
"Economic theory is built on how people make decisions, and in real life all decisions are made under some degree of fundamental uncertainty - people simply do not know what future they face. Uncertain Futures shows that people use works of imagination, or they use narratives, or calculative practices such as business plans, to act in spite of uncertainty. Economics – thanks to Beckert and Bronk – can build upon a much more realistic human foundation than before. A first-rate contribution to the field."
W. Brian Arthur, author of "Complexity and the Economy"
"Especially when uncertainties produced by innovation are compounded by second-order uncertainties about the reactions of others, what should one do when rational calculation of probabilities based on past data is ineffective in predicting the future? From a diverse range of disciplinary perspectives, the essays in this collection creatively explore the role of imagination – long studied as a source of innovation, but until now neglected as a response to uncertainty."
David Stark, Columbia University and author of "The Sense of Dissonance"
"We all have to take decisions with long-term consequences, with little knowledge of what the future may bring. The future is inherently uncertain, so we cannot even estimate probabilities in most cases. The editors of this book have put together a collection of papers by economic sociologists, economists, a psychologist, and an anthropologist to explore the various calculative techniques, narratives, and imaginaries that we use in practice. It is all a far cry from the precise mathematical techniques of the rational expectation world of mainstream DSGE modelling, but none the worse for that."
Charles Goodhart, Emeritus Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and former member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England
"How do people make sense of the unknown – perhaps unknowable – future? It is becoming increasingly clear that this question is central to our understanding of economic life. The fine collection of studies in this book is a crucial contribution to this vital debate."
Donald MacKenzie, University of Edinburgh and author of "An Engine, Not a Camera"

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