“The workshop gave me an opportunity to learn through action, collaboration, and experience”
As we navigate our daily lives, we constantly predict what might happen next; we navigate the present by imagining the future. The future, ever-connected to our present in a single timeline opening out in front of us, also represents a possible space in which we can imagine alternatives to present trajectories. We humans have over-active imaginations that, in children, we encourage as play, but as adults, we confine to entertainment via fiction and fantasy, imagination and daydreaming. Speculative Worlds championed this over-active imagination, bringing together 15 post-graduate researchers from a diversity of fields and backgrounds to explore the power of speculative thinking. The two-day practical lab explored what happens when we disconnect the future from the present and collaboratively imagine impossible futures. Building on a body of practice and thinking about speculation and its use in developing ideas and understandings, Speculative Worlds explored how interacting with impossible futures and pasts can develop thinking that informs how we can act now.

“I think this event fills a real gap within our research community”

This creative hands-on method and making lab gave early-career researchers from across the UK an opportunity to come together to explore how speculative thought might be harnessed to broaden the scope and impact of their research. Speculative Worlds was both a provocation and a Petri dish: participants were asked to imagine a world parallel to ours but of their own design, asking questions together and playing with ideas to conjure up sounds, smells, concepts, artefacts from their collaboration. Participants engaged in collaborative world-making and imagining-otherwise while creating instant memories and relationships.

“It is always interesting to see how other people work through the same problem space and arrive at very different outputs. For me that is what makes these kinds of workshops fun!”
Speculative Worlds began by brainstorming potential alternative realities and building connections between disparate ideas followed by an informal evening meal to foster chance encounters and inter-world connections and culminated in group presentations of objects, artefacts, and rituals from their respective alternative realities. Day two started with a chemically induced journey revealing a world of super entanglement, where affects and relationships are fully visible. This was followed by a trial educational programme for British adolescents in which human consciousness is transferred to the body of an animal or mythical creature in order to foster greater empathy for all of life and our place in the world. Finally, participants ruminated on the nature of eternal life by a cast of characters, each presenting a unique stance: the techno-optimist business mogul selling eternity, one individual who welcomed erasure, and another who sought to take up residence within the eternity of the present. Amidst the contemplation of oblivion, an audible emotion-laden gasp could be heard as one of the presenters broke apart an interlocking clay circle sculpture representing the complexity of life, death, and remembrance. 

“The main impact I have noticed so far is a renewed sense of confidence in myself to take speculative thinking forward as a 'serious' method”

Speculative Worlds participants, reflecting on meaningful take-aways from the lab, said that the event was ‘a useful way of developing and sharing knowledge’ and one participant ‘discussed two potential collaborations’ for further research in speculative thinking. Another participant noted that they enjoyed the ‘open-ended format to the creative sessions’ and commented that there ‘was a sense of non-judgement and shared curiosity’. At the heart of the lab was a commitment to fostering collaboration. One participant said that ‘hearing other people’s insights inspired me’. Another stated that they ‘found the process of presenting then discussing our unique objects extremely generative. As a creative practitioner, I found it beneficial to move from individual towards collective reflections. I would use similar collaborative methods in the future.’ Importantly, Speculative Worlds aimed to foreground creative methods and collaborative research for early-career researchers while fostering a warm, welcoming, and non-hierarchal atmosphere. Creating alternative worlds and thinking of reality as otherwise necessitates honest and open discussion. Participants said that the atmosphere was ‘very open and free’ as well as ‘friendly, enthusiastic and non-judgemental’. Another said that they ‘felt as though diversity of beliefs, opinions, and thoughts’ were ‘celebrated’ throughout the lab.

Following the success of the inaugural event and with encouragement from participant feedback, the organisers are planning another Speculative Worlds lab in the academic year 2022/23 at UCL.

Speculative Worlds organised by:
William Stewart, PhD student at UCL Geography
and featuring the creative mediation of:
Richard Sobey (Artist, Interdisciplinary Creative Producer)
Richard Müller (Artist, Speculative Designer)

May 29 2024 - Walking Workshop: Exploring Walking Practice for Researchers
June 19 & 20 2024 -  Annual Summer Lab