Sustainable Futures: Politics, Democracy, and Futuring

Course code
Course fee (excl. housing)
Course Level
Advanced Master
This course is closed and you can't apply anymore. Please check our other courses.

What we do in the present is profoundly influenced by our expectations of our futures. The annual Sustainable Futures Summer School (formerly known as 'Futuring for Sustainability' is an interactive course, held from 3 - 7 July 2023. During this one-week course we teach students to appreciate different pathways to sustainability. How can we realize societal transformations towards sustainability, to living well equitably within ecological means? What does a sustainable world look like? In what type of sustainable future would you want to live? How can we prepare and collaboratively create a sustainable world? How to navigate the inevitable political and social conflicts such transformations inevitably bring? In the Sustainable Futures summer school, these are central questions. We will address them using futuring, a novel approach to future-making pioneered by the Urban Futures Studio.

Sustainability is the defining challenge of the 21st century. It is becoming increasingly clear that the way in which the world is organised today fails to safeguard a liveable future. In this summer school, we take this challenge seriously, as a cultural, social, and political challenge. How can we live up to that challenge? How can societies and communities build pathways to sustainable futures? Is it possible to go beyond technical solutions and imagine futures that are meaningfully different from today? Our expectations about the future, our dreams and imaginations for it, profoundly influence the way we act in the present. Visions of plausible, possible, or desirable futures are fundamentally important in shaping our social and environmental futures. For example, just think about the effects novels such as George Orwell’s 1984, films such as Back to the Future, and artistic styles such as Afrofuturism and steampunk have had on the way people feel about and prepare for the future. So too do unexpected downturns such as 9/11, the financial crisis, and the Covid19 pandemic. Technological and societal developments always rely on images of the future, on people acting based on their imaginations and expectations. Expectations and visions are what make people act. In society, people and groups are always futuring, always actively trying to shape expectations and visions for the future. They are always trying to shape the future.

Against this backdrop of ubiquitous images of the future, the most important challenge of the coming decades is the need to craft sustainable futures. Futures that are also just, desirable, and democratic. In this summer school, the Urban Futures Studio and Pathways to Sustainability collaborate to connect technical and environmental questions around sustainability to social questions around equality, democracy, and participation. It has become increasingly clear that finding pathways to sustainable futures is a deeply social and cultural challenge. Deeply held values connect to even the most high-tech solutions. Drawing on a wide variety of literature, ranging from political science to urban planning to integrated assessment modelling, this summer school offers the Urban Futures Studio approach to shaping visions for desirable sustainable futures. It also offers our interpretation of how to give those visions a social life, our take on making them affect processes in the real world. Throughout the summer school, questions of democracy and politics will a central focus: who shape sustainable futures and how do they do so?

Join us for an interactive course to learn to understand how techniques of futuring contribute to realizing societal transformations towards sustainability: living well equitably within ecological means. Learn how to imagine positive futures and mobilize to achieve them in a democratic and participatory fashion. Understand futuring techniques including scenario planning, modeling, backcasting, experiential futuring, arts-based approaches, science fiction, and design. Learn to understand where our current sustainability discourse comes from - and how 'the future' became an object of study. Lecturers from various disciplines will introduce what they deem to be crucial insights for building a more sustainable future. Try out these techniques and insights by experimenting in a real-world setting in workstudio sessions. This course builds your capacity to develop new visions and imaginations of possible futures and alternative sustainability pathways.

Please Note: We are happy to announce that after a year's hiatus and two virtual editions, this summer school will be fully physical again. We look forward to welcoming you in Utrecht and collaborating with you in person

For those doing their PhD or with limited funding, some scholarships or fee waivers/reductions will be available.

For any questions, please contact:

Utrecht Summer School Welcome Day 2023_5.pdf
Course director
Dr. Jeroen Oomen & Prof. Dr. Maarten Hajer


We will offer a highly interdisciplinary faculty. Most are still to be determined. The faculty will include:

Prof. Dr. Maarten Hajer (Utrecht University)

Dr. Josephine Chambers (Utrecht University)

Dr Koen Wessels (Utrecht University)

Dr. Jeroen Oomen (Utrecht University)

More to be announced

Target audience

Designed for graduate students from all disciplinary backgrounds, particularly advanced Masters and Doctoral students. We also consider Masters students, Postdoctoral students, and select practitioners who are interested in futuring and sustainability.

Aim of the course

The course aims to provide participants with an overview of techniques of futuring as tools and processes for catalyzing the transformation to sustainability through increased democratic participation and expanded imagination. Participants are equipped with the knowledge to understand and apply these techniques for further independent study and for addressing societal challenges.

Study load

1.5 ECTS


Course fee:
Fee covers
Course + course materials
Housing fee:
Housing cost
Housing provider:
Utrecht Summer School

Additional information

If you would like to make use of the Utrecht Summer School student accommodation, please make sure to check this page. You can check in on or after Sunday 2 July 2023, after 12.00 (noon). More information regarding the check-in is available in the pre-departure and day-to-day document. 


Extra application information

We welcome you to send us a motivation letter or alternatively send us another creative approach to express your interest in this course (e.g., slides, video, storyboard). Please also include your c.v.

Please note: unlike most other Utrecht Summer Schools, the Sustainabilty Futures summer school does not strictly work with a ‘first come, first serve’ system. We will periodically make a selection based on the motivation letter and the curriculum vitae. As soon as you apply, you will receive confirmation that we have received your application. Final decisions about acceptance may, however, take up to two weeks.

Please also note that we still encourage you to apply as soon as possible—we will start accepting people well ahead of the final deadline.

For this course you are required to upload the following documents when applying:

Motivation Letter

Contact details

Course Coordinators: Dr. Jeroen Oomen & Dr. Timothy Stacey

Please direct your questions to:


Application deadline: 
Registration deadline
01 May 2023