How do you imagine the future?
A disarmed World.
“By 2050 the population had, through both disaster and design, fallen below five billion: human life on earth became viable again. School-based peace education joined with health and social education, leading to mutual solving of problems in and across communities and faiths. Industrialization slowed down, older technologies and skills were revitalized, steady-state economies were achieved. Dismantling the military and its institutions began. People’s organizations (NGOs) now provided vital communication networks around the world, linking the growing thousands of locally run communities sharing information, skills, problems, and solutions.
By 2100, the biosphere was beginning to recover from the destruction of the twentieth century, though used up resources were gone forever. National boundaries still existed for administrative convenience, but regional intergovernmental bodies skilled in conflict management handled disputes peacefully…
Humans had learned to listen to one another and the planet – Elise Boulding, aged 81 in 2001.
Elise Boulding, considered to many as “the matriarch of peace studies” (Benson, 2010) wrote the introductory quote in 2001 -almost 20 years ago- even though nowadays it could be an interesting reflection. Have you ever imagined a disarmed world, with alternative security systems? Have we ever thought of how a world without borders, taking part of a global community, would be?
Elise Boulding was a Norwegian-born American sociologist that reinvented the concept of international “global culture”, the idea of a cosmopolitan community. She was one of the main contributors to the Peace and conflict studies discipline birth, which was during 1950 and in early 1960 (Morrison, 2008). Furthermore, she founded a huge number of organizations and networks related to peace investigation, women studies, futures, and activism –having a specific focus on the role of women and family in the peace process. What brings her to the current article are the papers, workshops, and reflections that she did regarding imagining a disarmed, and peaceful, future.
What the new society would look like?
The sociologist, Elise Boulding, wrote an article entitled “A disarmed World: Problems Imagining the future” (Boulding, 1977). There, she reflects about the problem of having a few futuristic studies where a disarmed world is being set. It is easier, as she mentions, to find futurists that predict weapons breakthroughs rather than disarmed proposals.
Indeed, is possible to see some examples from the literature or the cinema where a dramatic future appears. For instance, there is a science fiction sub gender called Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction. Movies such as “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004), with an environmental disaster, or “The Book of Eli” (2010), with constant war, show fateful humanity ending. Also, the classic “Blade runner” (1982) is set with a anxiety and desperate atmosphere. Another example, working more on topics related to extreme poverty and hunger, can be the trilogy “The hunger games” (2012). Could be possible that we imagine “these futures” because of the image that we have from the past?
History check: in the language of conquest.
Jumping to our past, and what has been studied at school, we can see that it is written in the language of conquest: the conquest of nature, of territories, of people, of ideas (Boulding, 1977). According to the sociologist, “we have experienced a great deal of conquest imagery, in our learning of history, in the sequence of conquest empires rising in the lands bordering the Mediterranean and in Asian lands over the last five millennia, and more recently in Europe and the Americas”.
Certainly, storybooks are the mirror image of how the past is represented in people’s imagination. And it wears the crown of kingdoms and explains the administration of colonized territories; maps that put Europe in the center are the rule; but, why is Europe in the middle of the map and The United States are in “North America”? Is not the world a sphere –where north and south doesn’t exist? For more information, see “The Upsidedown Map page” (image 3, down bellow) that can break some mental images, stereotypes and prejudices, and ways to see the world.
Peaceful imagined past
By comparison, Elise Boulding article (Boulding, 1977) gives also a bird”s-eye view of a peaceful image that comes from the past –also found in historical documents. There are recurring images of human beings living peacefully together in a garden, as Boulding wrote, taken from holy books; it is possible to see that “harmonic gardens” appear in Jewish, Christian and Muslim imaginary – seen in literature or artistic compositions. These gardens are inspired in a golden age form the past, are an imagined coming age or an afterlife. “Non-militaristic welfare state that was conceived as desirable in the intellectual imagination”, declare Boulding.
From the Chines tradition, for instance, there are writers and thinkers that had questioned the need or validity of violence and warfare – see Lau-Tzu, Confucius, Mencius or Mo-Tsu (Boulding, 1977). They went over and above the idea of accepting human conflict and violent behaviors; they believed in a peaceful and social order where abundance was shared. As a way of example, Lao-Tzu (6th century B.C) cautioned against war, seeing that as an instrument for social policy. Moreover, Mo-Tsu (5th century B.C) recommended love as a political principle.
Alternative futures: Does matter whether we can create constructs of the disarmed world?
Back to Elise Boulding article, she begs the next question: Does matter whether we can create constructs of the disarmed world? There are alternative futures, according to the sociologist: “involve recycling, the simple life and back to the land movement, certainly has some serious exponents, but more people like to read about it than do it” (for example, as it is seen in the movie “Into the wild”, inspirited in a novel from Jon Karkauer done in 1998).
The sociologist, E. Boulding, was running a workshop in late 1970 to imagine a nonviolent world. She realized that people who were peace activists could not imagine a future in which armies had disappeared. “How could we work to bring about something we can not even see in our imaginations?” is asking in her article reflecting about the workshop (Boulding, 2002).
In these sessions, people –not only who were “free to be change agents”, such as activists, youth groups, diplomats, soldiers, scholars or teachers but also prisoners- were asked to travel 30 years into the future and expose their hopes. Boulding pointed being surprised for how concrete where this desires, written above (Boulding, 2002):
- To be at peace with ourselves and one another and the world in which we live. To recognize, understand, communicate what is going on.
- There should be a peaceful environment for all mankind: no wars, hunger, homelessness, disease, violence, racism, no TV commercials, and no pollution.
- People listen to and respect one another. There is equality, just laws and freedom from fear.
- Life is local; families are peaceful. There are a strong community feeling and conflict resolution. People help each other and have fun together.
Furthermore, workshop participants were drawing what was coming from their imagination; in that future “ prison walls had melted away and all the beauties of nature and the life of free humans stood revealed: open countryside, trees, bushes, flowers, distant mountains, lakes and rivers, farmlands (…)”, writes Boulding in her notes. This future was lightly and with smiling people. Communities, instead of loneliness, were highlighted and also sharped the idea of facing the differences and resolve them peacefully.
There was another noteworthy point from the workshop, entitled according to Boulding ‘remembering history’. Participants were invited to go back to the present and decide what activities and strategies they personally could take in order to make the desired future come true. From this, six action themes were identified:
- Inner peace and personal development.
- Tell people good things.
- Speak up when necessary.
- Work with AVP (Alternatives to Violence Program)
- Respond directly to bad situations when things go amiss.
- More ecological awareness of consuming less.
Building a Culture of Peace: some words to conclude.
Elise Boulding argued that the resources and energies for peace cultures are deep and persistent; thus, are nourished by collective and communal visions of how things might be (Woodhouse & Santiago, 2012); in her article (Boulding, 1977) she claims that is in our relationships –regarding social and political life, such as inside structures and institutions-, the success of inculcating specific skills for having peace praxis. That will determine, at the end, whether we are peacemakers or warmakers.
In way of conclusion, I would like to highlight the same reflection as the named “matriarchal of peace studies”, Elise Boulding writes in her workshop reflections: “What exists, is possible. We have many more potential co-workers in the task of building a more peaceful world than we ever knew”. A disarmed world is possible but there is the need to work on it.
To keep reading:
List of stories set in a future now past:
To have a look:
Image 1: valerioberdini.photoshelter.com (n.d): The contradiction of peace in a graffiti done by Banksy in Bethlehem. Retrieved February 10, 2019 from
Image 2: Wired.com (2014). Commander Paylor (Patina Miller), Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1. Article Data 21st of November 2014. Retrieved February, 7, 2019 from
Image 4: wikipedia.org (n.d). The Garden of Earthy Delights. (1503-1510), Retrieved February, 10, 2019 from
Image 5: quora.com (n.d). “Into the Wild” movie frame. Article data 6th of July 2016. Retrieved February 10, 2019 from
Image 6: A participant holds a posted with the message “Power to the peaceful” during the Women’s March. January 21, 2017, in Los Angeles, California (Image 6).
Image 7: issu.com (December 2017). “Ask for peace”, question painted in a wall from Lifta in Jerusalem. Article data 19th of November 2017. Retrieved February 10, 2019, from
Benson, Virginia. (2010, September 17). Remembering Elise Boulding. Retrieved from
Bouldling, E. (2002). A Journey into the Future: Imagining a Nonviolent World. Peace and Conflict Studies,9(1), 4th ser., 1-5. Retrieved February 7, 2019, from
Boulding, E. (1977). A Disarmed World: Problems in Imaging theFuture. The Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, 1-14. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
Elise Boulding (n.d) In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from
Morrison, M.Lee, Ph.D. (2008). Elise Boulding and Peace Education. Columbia.edu, 1-5. Retrieved February 6, 2019, from
Woodwouse, T. & Santiago, I.M. (2012). Elise Boulding: New Voices in Conflict Resolution*. Journal of Conflictology,1-9. Retrieved February 5, 2019, from