This paper views Sardar’s postnormal times as embryonic, and extends it using ecosystems theory. To develop Sardar’s concept as a macrohistory, Holling’s adaptive cycle and panarchical systems are proposed as mechanisms of change that create postnormal times.
Ziauddin Sardar  claims we have entered ‘postnormal’ times. As a modern day Marco Polo, he offers a travel log of social and economic abnormalities brought on by the Great Recession of 2008-2009. He reports the new terrain is windswept by complexity, chaos, and contradiction, where the old normality itself, running on progress, modernity and efficiency, is now a cause of our ills. He says that our journey toward the new normal cannot be centered in single-dimension logic or rationality. Instead, Sardar says it must be anchored in virtues: humility, modesty, and accountability. This, together with collective imagination and multi-cultural creativity, could forge a global path to a new-normal time.
How should futurists evaluate Sardar’s declaration of ‘postnormal’ times? Beyond existing critiques of world futures, how does this metaphor shed light on our age? Has the Great Recession so fundamentally altered the nature of globalization so that we now live in a state of post-normal chaos? Should Sardar’ new dispensation be adopted by the futures community?
In mulling over Sadar’s paper I was driven back to Galtung and Inayatullah , who review twenty theories of macrohistorians, such as Ssu-Ma Ch’ien, Khaldun, Vico, Hegel, Marx, Spencer, Weber, Sorokin, Gramsci, or Eisler. In comparing and contrasting these minds, they suggest ten factors that constitute a macrohistory, including its metaphysics, knowledge framework, metaphors of time, stages of history, mechanisms of change, level(s) of analysis, change agents, and vision of the past and the future. They note that a macrohistory does not always explicitly delineate each factor. This is especially true of Sardar’s postnormal times, where much more is implicit, than explicit.
Sardar takes us on a global tour of system crises that places us in a new uncertainty. We leave with a rough map of the new typology. To continue the journey, however, will require we develop detailed maps. In short, Sardar’s concept of postnormal times needs a more robust framework. He offers an epistemological clue about postnormal times from the discipline of post-normal science . But more work must be done from the fields of social evolution, world systems, and sustainability sciences by Sardar and others before we can construct a well-rounded model. To advance this conversation, this paper will extend Sardar’s concept of postnormal times with the insights of Holling’s adaptive model of change and nested panarchies among social-ecological systems .
2. Holling’s adaptive cycle
3. A Postnormal reality check
4. Resiliency through panarchies
Gary, J. E. (2011, February). Toward a new macrohistory: An extension to Sardar’s ‘postnormal times.’ Futures, 43(1), 48-51.
Download an author copy of this article.
Dr. Jay Gary is president of PeakFutures.com, a foresight consulting group. Over the past twenty years he has helped non-profits, foundations, civic leaders, and strategic alliances to create more promise filled futures. He also teaches strategic foresight, innovation and leadership at the graduate level and through professional development courses.