The concept of sustainable development is inherently temporal, implying that development should address future generations’ needs. Through the production of indicators in the form of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), these anticipated needs are enshrined as guideposts for global governance in the present.
The talk will explore how constructing indicators of sustainable development necessarily de-futurises the concept, and elaborate on the implications of developing and stabilising knowledge of the future based on knowledge of the past and present. Quantifying sustainable development replaces contingency within the open future horizon with a specific quantified future, which is limited in its imaginations to the time of its construction. Quantifying sustainable development goals thus limits the space available for imagining alternative visions. Rather, futures of sustainable development are to be attained through a rational, managerial and teleological process directed towards a defined objective.
The SDGs inadvertently imagine a future tightly linked to their initial anticipation of needs, not reflecting upon dramatic changes either in the environment in which they have been produced, or in the political aspirations that have spawned them. Thus, I suggest that the SDGs’ ‘future we want’ is essentially wanting in futures.
Overall, the presentation critically assesses both implications and alternatives of establishing desirable futures through quantification. In other words, I explore how the utopian content of the SDGs can be salvaged in light of the political realities necessitating quantification and benchmarking.
John Berten, Researcher at Bielefeld University
Monique Beerli, Executive Director & Research Affiliate at the Global Governance Centre and Lecturer for the Interdisciplinary Programme, the Graduate Institute
Annabelle Littoz-Monnet, Professor, International Relations/Political Science and Director of the Global Governance Centre, the Graduate Institute