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the study or prediction of the future of mankind
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


  1. the purported science of prognosis (Flechtheim, 1965).
  2. any attempt to undertake longterm, large-scale social and economic FORECASTING. Rather than being defined as a separate science, efforts to illuminate the future are better seen as one aspect of the numerous individual social sciences, with sociology often playing a central role.
As indicated by Daniel BELL (1965,1973), the varieties of social-science activity that can be involved in statements about the future must be carefully distinguished. They include:
  1. academically grounded general speculation;
  2. the simple extrapolation of existing trends or tendencies, or probability generalizations, based on the existing behaviour of known populations or natural phenomena;
  3. theoretical general models of the kind associated with Marxism, and developmental social-evolutionary theories of various kinds, including models of exponential growth;
  4. the ‘prediction’ of specific events.

As suggested by POPPER, the distinction must be drawn between ‘prophecy’ (e.g. claims to predict the future made by ‘vulgar’ versions of Marxism or evolutionary theory) and ‘scientific prediction’, which is always a matter of universal conditional statements and ‘if, then’ in form (see also HISTORICISM). Apart from our knowledge of what Bell refers to as ‘structural certainties’ (e.g. the date of the next US presidential election), exact prediction is rare in the social sciences, given the complexity of the variables involved, including human choice, the fact that most social systems are ‘open systems’. The various attempts to chart future possibilities remain valuable, however, as long as the limitations and caveats which must attach to them are not ignored. See also SELFFULFILLING AND SELFDESTROYING PROPHECY.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a term broadly used to indicate the entire range of conceptions about the future of the earth and of mankind; in its more narrow sense, futurology is that field of inquiry that deals with prospective social processes—a synonym for prognosis or prognostication. In the USSR the term is generally used to designate contemporary non-Marxist conceptions of the future, or bourgeois futurology.

The term “futurology” was coined in 1943 by the German sociologist O. Flechtheim to denote a kind of supraclass “philosophy of the future,” which he contrasted to ideology as well as to utopia. In the early 1960’s the term gained currency in the West, in the sense of “history of the future” or “science of the future,” and futurology was called on to monopolize the prognostic, or forecasting, functions of existing scientific disciplines. But beginning in the late 1960’s, in view of the fact that prospective social processes are studied by many different sciences, the term “futurology,” because of its vagueness and multiplicity of meanings, was gradually replaced by “the study of the future,” a term implying the totality of prognostic theory and practice. It is in this sense—namely, as a descriptive synonym for “the study of the future”—that futurology is still generally understood in the West. The World Future Studies Federation was formed in 1973; its membership includes various scientific societies that make forecasting studies, such as the research committee on futurology of the International Sociological Association.

Several tendencies may be distinguished in bourgeois futurology, including those of the apologists, the reformists, and the left radicals. The 1960’s were dominated by the outright apologists, whose ideas were based on a variety of technological theories (such as the concept of the postindustrial society) and who sought to demonstrate the viability of state-monopoly capitalism and its potential for modernization. Representatives of this trend in the United States are D. Bell and H. Kahn; in France, R. Aron and B. de Jouvenel. The reformist position is based on the theory that capitalism and socialism must converge; its adherents include F. Baade in the Federal Republic of Germany, R. Jungk in Austria, F. Polak in the Netherlands, and J. Galtung in Norway. The left radicals, on the other hand—such as A. Waskow in the United States—maintain that the scientific and technological revolution will inevitably result in catastrophe for “Western civilization.”

The late 1960’s marked the beginning of a critical period in bourgeois futurology. The leading current in the early 1970’s was represented by those who believed a “global catastrophe” to be inevitable in view of the current direction of social development. A group calling itself the Club of Rome, whose membership includes prominent Western scholars, politicians, and businessmen, has played a very influential role in this complex and essentially apologist current. On the initiative of the Club of Rome, computer data were made the basis of a “global modeling” of mankind’s future. Those participating in such research represent two basic tendencies: social pessimism characterizes the ideas of J. Forrester, D. Meadows, and R. Heilbroner of the United States, while the position of the “technological optimists” is based on the possibility of preventing catastrophe by “optimizing” state-monopoly capitalism—as proposed, for example, by A. Toffler, M. Mesaroviɣ, and E. Laszlo of the USA, E. Pestel of the Federal Republic of Germany, C. Freeman and V. Ferkiss of Great Britain, I. Kaiya of Japan, H. Linnemann of the Netherlands, and A. Herrera of Argentina.

In contrast to the varied and contradictory conceptions of bourgeois futurology, the scientific predictions of Marxism-Leninism are based on the theoretical propositions of dialectical and historical materialism.


Marx, K., F. Engels, and V. I. Lenin. O nauchnom kommunizme. Moscow, 1963. (Collection of articles.)
Kakoe budushchee ozhidaet chelovechestvo? Prague, 1964.
Edeling, G. Prognozirovanie i sotsializm. Moscow, 1970. (Translated from German.)
Budushchee chelovecheskogo obshchestva. Moscow, 1971.
Ozhegov, Iu. P. Problema predvideniia v sovremennoi burzhuaznoi ideologii. Novosibirsk, 1971.
Ozhegov, Iu. P. Sotsial’noe prognozirovanie i ideologicheskaia bor’ba. Moscow, 1975.
Arab-Ogly, E. A. Vlabirinteprorochestv. Moscow, 1973.
Lavallée, L. Za marksistskoe issledovanie budushchego. Moscow, 1974. (Translated from French.)
Jungk, R. Die Zukunft hat schon begonnen. Hamburg, 1964.
Jouvenel des Ursins, B. de. L’Art de la conjecture. Monaco, 1964.
Flechtheim, O. K. Futurologie: Der Kampf um die Zukunft. Cologne, 1970.
Toffler, A. Future Shock. New York, 1970.
Bell, D. The Coming of Post-industrial Society: A Venture in Social Forecasting. New York, 1973.
The Limits to Growth. New York, 1972.
Mesarović, M., and E. Pestel. Mankind at the Turning Point. New York, 1974.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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