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One of the major challenges for Public Administration is to anticipate the futures and to include this knowledge and capacity in policies and governance. Public Administration research and teaching runs too much behind the facts; however it should also be in front of the facts, it should not just push realities but also pull realities.
According to this logic it is important to bring not just scenario’s, but also ´utopias´ back to social sciences. ´Utopia´ is in this sense one method to develop ‘possible futures’. For Elias ‘utopia’ becomes part of a social science research toolkit, just like critique of sources, statistics, studies of trajectories, reconstructing networks, content analysis, reception studies, comparison, etc. (Elias, 2009). Utopia as a social science technique allows one to look at potentials for realization, a gap analysis, and possible futures. Utopias also put more emphasis on teleological rationality, rather than causality, of change patterns. They put path dependency, bifurcations, and constraints in the perspective of reverse logics, backward mapping, effect/cause or objective/means logics much more central. For Elias this helps to re-evaluate the role of imagination in social sciences and opposes the fatalism of incrementalism and pragmatism in research and policies.
The purpose is to keep an eye on the future: How can we learn trusting utopias and distrusting dystopias, learning to think beyond short-term problems and solutions, but trying to be as realistic as possible.