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Waking up in the twenty‐first century

Chris Riedy (Based at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology, Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 9 August 2013




The purpose of this paper is to explore metaphors of human awakening in four recent futures works and propose a research agenda on the nature and future trajectories of awakening.


The paper reviews metaphors of awakening in Slaughter's The Biggest Wake‐up Call in History, the Great Transition Initiative, Gilding's The Great Disruption and Inayatullah's “Waking up to a new future”. It identifies seven characteristics of awakening and uses these to create an environmental scanning framework. It reports on a preliminary application of the framework and proposes a future research agenda.


The paper identifies seven signals of awakening: futures literacy, shifting values, activism, collective agency, engaged dialogue, distributed leadership and inspiring visions. While evidence for most of these signals can be found, it is often weak and dominated by other trends.

Research limitations/implications

The environmental scanning framework needs to be expanded using additional literature and testing. The question of when confrontation with apocalyptic future images can deliver positive outcomes remains unresolved.

Practical implications

Perhaps the single most important thing that could be done to help rouse sleeping humanity is to begin to make connections between the diverse movements identified in the paper and to see them as pieces of the larger puzzle of how we wake up. Maybe an “awakening movement” could provide a common goal in the twenty‐first century.


The paper is an original exploration of the metaphor of awakening in four prominent works on sustainable futures. It will have value to foresight practitioners and change agents who are building movements for sustainable futures.



Riedy, C. (2013), "Waking up in the twenty‐first century", On the Horizon, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 174-186.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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