Close up photo of a police drone flying in the sky with a camera attached.

Security and the Future. A Cultural Studies Approach

Security‘s close connotations with strategy and planning indicate that the very notion of security is itself prospective—prospective in a two-fold manner: For one, “security” denotes a present-day managerial principle to reduce the potential of risk in the future, or to at least prolong the current, assessable situation into the future. At the same time, the term implies we possess secure knowledge of the future: It thus assumes a kind of presupposed certainty about the future. The project studied the specific linkages to the future in concepts and practices of security. It aimed to reveal the epistemic and cultural presuppositions behind current doctrines of security and their considerable effects on society. The various phenomena that constitute future knowledge (Zukunftswissen) and future action (Zukunftshandeln) need to be differentiated and might include topics and categories such as the cognitive schemas of utopia and dystopia, narratives of progress and crisis, techniques of prognosis and forecasting, ethical debates on sustainability, public and private institutions of safeguarding and insurance, and practices of provision, precaution and prevention. In light of such investigations, it can be shown in detail how today’s concept of security—especially in political debates and in public discourse—by no means solely describes specific measures aimed at preventing an actual, tangible threat, but rather has become a metaphor for politics that organizes daily life as well as the state and government. Specifically, the project analyzes the epistemic and cultural presuppositions of “security” by focusing on I.) military scenarios since 1945, II.) debates on political ecology and risk prevention since 1970, and III.) representations of security and prevention in contemporary literature and film.


Fig. above: Police drone “Sensocopter” in action on 13 Feb 2011 in Dresden, Source: by Paulae on Wikimedia

Funded by the Gerda Henkel Foundation, Special Program Security, Society, and the State 2014–2017
Head researcher(s): Benjamin Bühler, Stefan Willer


War Games. The History of Knowledge and Media in Military Fictions of Security since 1945

Associate Researcher(s): Sandra Pravica

Through the anticipation of future events, the military attempts to predict the consequences that follow interventions, to calculate the behavior of an opponent or enemy, to detect potential flashpoints, and to avert threats such as terrorism. The subproject investigated the quantitative predictive methods used in the context of military strategy and policy advice with regard to their implications for terms such as security, uncertainty, and the unknown. It also looked at the time frames established by these methods. The study initially utilized the works of the US-American Herman Kahn, who during the Cold War developed detailed, calculated future scenarios regarding the political capacity to act in the face of the threat of nuclear war. Furthermore, the subproject concentrated on the current changes taking place in the area of digital forecasting based on the collection of so–called big data. It pursued the implementation of new forecasting practices within the framework of security concepts and programs.

Scenarios of Catastrophe. On Political Ecology since 1970

Associate Researcher(s): Benjamin Bühler

Since the 1970s, statements about ecological issues have become an integral part of social self-conceptualizations. The discourse of political ecology works with all kinds of references to the future, which, however, always serve the legitimization and organization of political agency in the present. Painting pictures of future ecological disasters serves to legitimate present-day strategies of security, which are implemented solely for the purpose of preventing such a disastrous future from happening. As a first step, the project examined documents from the 1970s that depict disaster scenarios and reflect upon their relation to the budding environmental movement of the time. The documents analyzed include political essays, the public and scientific discussions around Denis Meadow’s study Limits to Growth, as well as manifestos and novels. As a second step, the project focussed on today’s climate change debate and evaluated the security strategies that might become vital if the effects of climatic change become more drastic. It is significant in this respect that scientific and fictional forms of representation seem to be intersecting in an entirely novel way at the moment.

Fantasies of Prevention. The Representation of Security Doctrines in Contemporary Literature and Film

Dissertation project 2014–2017
Associate Researcher(s): Johannes Becker

Through the lens of prevention, ideas about security and the future come together in a paradoxical way: future disasters (whether diseases, terror attacks, or nuclear disasters) shall be pre-empted, in order to prevent them. Particularly in acute crisis situations, the demand for preventative security policy gains vehemence while serving to excuse far-reaching standardization and control measures. This subproject dealt with the nature and manner in which social communication concerning upcoming disasters (along with the likelihood of prevention) is and might be presented in the medium of fiction. The subject matter consists of novels and films, which fictionally revise and thereby intervene in current security and prevention discussions. On a theoretical level, the study further explored the conditions and limitations of direct thematic or mimetic access to such discussions in fiction as well as the resulting prospects of transforming the social self-understanding of security and the future.


Johannes Becker, Benjamin Bühler, Sandra Pravica, Stefan Willer (ed./eds.)

Kulturwissenschaftliche Perspektiven

Edition Kulturwissenschaft vol. 126
transcript Verlag, Bielefeld 2019, 248 pages
ISBN 978-3-8394-3741-4

Important findings were developed in the previous project Prognostics and Literature (2010–2013).

Benjamin Bühler

  • Zukunftsbezug und soziale Ordnung im Diskurs der politischen Ökologie, in: Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 2 (2009), 35–44
  • Repräsentationen der Ökologie, in: ecozone@ 1 (2010)
  • Entgleitende Regulierungen. Politische Ökologie im 20. Jahrhundert, in: Stefan Rieger, Manfred Schneider (eds.): Selbstläufer / Leerläufer. Regelungen und ihr Imaginäres im 20. Jahrhundert. Berlin, Zürich: Diaphanes 2012, 177–197
  • Von “Hypothesen, die auf einer Hypothese gründen.” Ökologische Prognostik in den 1970er Jahren, in: Daniel Weidner, Stefan Willer (eds.): Prophetie und Prognostik. Verfügungen über Zukunft in Wissenschaften, Religionen und Künsten. München: Fink 2013, 59–80

Sandra Pravica

Stefan Willer


Panel discussion
10 Sep 2017 · 4.00 pm

Stefan Willer: Leben mit Unsicherheit

Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Schaperstrasse 24, 10719 Berlin, Oberes Foyer

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26 Apr 2017 – 28 Apr 2017 · 10.00 am

Stefan Willer: Visualizing Future Knowledge

Centre Universitaire de Norvège à Paris, 190 Avenue de France, 75013 Paris (FR)

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Lecture at the CRC »Episteme in Bewegung«, FU Berlin
21 Apr 2017 · 10.00 am

Stefan Willer: »Es muss eine Zeit kommen« – Zum Wandel des Zukunftswissens im 18. Jahrhundert

FU Berlin, SFB »Episteme in Bewegung«, Schwendener Str. 8, 14195 Berlin, Versammlungsraum

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Lecture series »Berliner Kulturwissenschaft«
11 Jan 2017 · 6.00 pm

Stefan Willer (ZfL/HU Berlin): Was ist Zukunftswissen?

Humboldt-Universität Berlin, Institut für Kulturwissenschaft, Dorotheenstr. 26, 10117 Berlin, Raum 208

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25 Feb 2016 – 26 Feb 2016

Zukunftssicherung. Konzepte – Praktiken – Imaginationen

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, Trajekte-Tagungsraum 308

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Veranstaltung von Benjamin Bühler u. Stefan Willer i. R. des Salons Sophie Charlotte der BBAW
23 Jan 2016 · 6.00 pm

Bestmögliche Weltuntergänge. Literatur und Apokalypse

Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Markgrafenstraße 38 (am Gendarmenmarkt), 10117 Berlin

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12 Jun 2015 · 4.30 pm

Benjamin Bühler: Schwärme und Drohnen, Erzählen und Messen. Stanisław Lems Roman »Der Unbesiegbare«

Bischofsvilla, Otto-Adam-Str. 5, 78457 Konstanz 

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11 Jun 2015 – 12 Jun 2015

Begriffsgeschichte und Zukunftswissen

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Seminarraum 303

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17 May 2015 · 4.15 pm

Benjamin Bühler: Sicherung der Menschheit. Recycling als Zukunftstechnik

Theodor-Heuss-Akademie, Theodor-Heuss-Str.26, 51645 Gummersbach

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Geisteswissenschaftliches Kolleg der Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes
22 Mar 2015 – 27 Mar 2015

Geschichte(n) der Zukunft IV. Ungewissheit und Prävention

Bischof-Benno-Haus, Katholische Bildungsstätte und Tagungshaus des Bistums Dresden Meißen, Schmochtitz Nr. 1, 02625 Bautzen

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13 Feb 2015 – 14 Feb 2015

Sicherheit und Zukunft

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Seminarraum 303

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Geisteswissenschaftliches Kolleg der Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes
28 Sep 2014 – 03 Oct 2014

Geschichte(n) der Zukunft III. Fortschritt und Apokalypse

Bildungshaus Kloster Schöntal, Klosterhof 6, 74214 Schöntal

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Video screening in the presence of the director with discussion
03 Sep 2014 · 4.00 pm

Field Visits for Chelsea Manning. A film-travelogue by Lance Wakeling

ZfL, Schützenstr. 18, 10117 Berlin, 3. Et., Trajekte-Tagungsraum

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09 Jun 2014 · 5.00 pm

Benjamin Bühler: Prognostik in Zukunftsromanen der Moderne

Zentrum für Jüdische Studien der Universität Basel, Leimenstr. 48, 4051 Basel

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Media Response

18 Jun 2015
Zukunftskonzepte. Das Fehlen der großen Entwürfe

Radio program by Bettina Mittelstraß with contributions by Falko Schmieder and Stefan Willer, in: Deutschlandfunk, program: Studiozeit – Aus Kultur- und Sozialwissenschaften, 18 Jun 2015

16 May 2015
Überwachungs-Narrative, Instant-Articles und Untersuchungsauschuss-Leaks

Interview with Stefan Willer, in: Deutschlandradio Kultur, program: Breitband. Magazin für Medien und digitale Kultur, 16 May 2015, 13.05 Uhr

15 Apr 2015
»Vor-Sicht! Vor-Sorge!« – Über das Wissen, Gestalten und Verhindern von Zukünften

Radiosendung u.a. mit Stefan Willer und Martin Treml (beide ZfL), in: Die KulturWelle vom 15.04.2015


2 Sep 2018
“Was ist Zukunftswissen?”
Lecture as part of the lecture series Berliner Kulturwissenschaft at the Department of Cultural History and Theory, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, on 11 Jan 2017, broadcasted in the program “Hörsaal”
© Deutschlandfunk Nova