monika bielskyte
Protopia Futures
Published in
19 min readMay 18, 2021


Planet Earth, 2021


Throughout this document, a conscious choice was made to use the pronoun “we”. The “we” of Protopia is everyone involved in putting this together, yes, but also the collaborators past and future, joining this gradually expanding community of ours. Together, we learn to foster radically hopeful and inclusive future ways of seeing and being in this world.

Collaborative cultural frameworks of gathering and nurturing are at the very origin of our species, despite the historical prevalence of patriarchal and individualist accounts associated with hunter mythology. Through our explorations, we express deep gratitude to all those who nourish the soil in which Protopian imagination seeds can germinate and grow. We were inspired by thoughts developed not just over the last few years, decades, or even centuries, but millennia. Specifically, this document has been influenced by the revolutionary work led by authors, activists, and innovators at the forefront of Black feminism and Indigenous, Queer and Disability activism. Some of these brilliant minds include Aimé Césaire, Angela Y. Davis, Ruha Benjamin, Tyson Yunkaporta, Bruce Pascoe, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Alice Wong, Imani Barbarin, Arundhati Roy, and Adrienne Maree Brown.

So much of this framework came to be through conversations with our kin: chosen family and peers whose contributions have been vital, not just within this text but through all the projects that @protopiafutures has already released, and is yet to release into the world. Gratitude is especially extended to everyone in the Knowledge Exchange collective whose daily insights continue expanding Protopian horizons. Please see the end of this document for the full credit list.

Ultimately, Protopia’s “we” as well as the framework itself are meant to be continuously reexamined and augmented. This is not a one-off “manifesto” but rather a scaffolding that will be adjusted and expanded with every new learning (and unlearning). What you’re reading below is really a sum of our inquiries, explorations, and conversations from the pandemic year of 2020–2021.


Mainstream futurist discourse tends to extrapolate from the status quo and proposes singular, predetermined future visions. The problem with a lot of such foresight is that it is bound by the constraints and suppositions of dominant perceptions of reality (*Radha Mistry).

Within the Protopia Framework, however, we position that there is no singular “future” trajectory but rather a vast scope of many alternative futures. It is continuously shaped not just by our actions but also by our inactions and our apathy. Hence, we consciously choose to use the plural “futures”, instead of singular “future”, throughout this text. Our work is always meant to engage the plurality of future possibilities — not a singular thread but rather the ever shifting perimeter of the probable, possible, plausible, and, most importantly, desirable.

Both Science Fiction and corporate foresight visions directly influence reality, and their predominantly dystopian/utopian stereotypes more often than not limit our understanding of the possibility space of tomorrow’s choices. Protopia research is intended to open such imagination doors so that many others can “walk through them” and take our ideas further than what we could ever do by ourselves. We are here to journey together — with you — in crafting Speculative Fiction world design and foresight practices that challenge, rather than further entrench the status quo.


Before we move into what specifically we want to achieve with Protopia Framework, it is important to understand why such work is even necessary.

The dominant historical narratives within both entertainment media and education have brought on a crisis of our collective futures imagination. Industrial markers of “progress” lead us to dead ends: the speed and quantitative aspects of our mechanical technologies have advanced to 21st century paradigms — culturally, socially, and politically, however, so much of our lives remain informed by a multiplicity of biases and injustices of centuries prior.

These flawed narratives of progress predicated on colonialism have privileged treacherously incorrect scientific theories, such as Cartesian dualism, that distort any true understanding of human community and our complex interdependence with all life on Earth. The narratives of “colonizing progress” and individualism have blocked us from more expansive scientific inquiries and innovative discoveries (*Mary Katherine Heinrich).


Currently, the two most commonly familiar frameworks to discuss the future are the seemingly polar opposites of Dystopia and Utopia. But has Dystopia vs. Utopia ever been a binary, or are these concepts just two sides of the same coin? Is this argument just another manifestation of self versus “other” entrenched into Western thought by colonization as “thingification” (Aimé Césaire, Le Discours Sur Colonialisme, 1954)? Haven’t most utopias been someone else’s dystopias, and vice versa? Instead of being productive frames of inquiry, are dystopias and utopias mere neo-religious content outlets for dualistic ideas of Heaven, Hell, and the fetish for the Apocalyptic Rapture?

What are the tangible consequences of such constrained, monocultural ways of defining our futures? What could be the possibilities of multicultural, open definitions (*Sydette Harry)?


Dystopian Futures are generally depicted as desolate beyond repair, and consequently mostly futile to be engaged with or salvaged. Whatever action happens in such a setting looks pretty much like cyberpunk dancing on the deck of the Titanic.

By now, Dystopias have become so obvious and banal that they are memes rather than cautionary tales, despair escapism, and excuses for inaction and further consumption. But also, and possibly even worse: they serve as product roadmaps for entities such as Peter Thiel’s Palantir, the deeply racialized predictive surveillance tech inspired by Minority Report.

This is not to say that, historically, dystopian warnings, especially by authors of marginalized backgrounds, have not been extraordinarily prescient and valuable. For example, if our policy makers would have heeded the lessons of Octavia Butler’s The Parable Of The Sower (1993), we could have diminished or at least been better prepared for some of the most disheartening aspects of the last decade: the disinformation warfare-driven resurgence of inequality, alienation, xenophobia, racism, fascism, and biosphere collapse. Butler’s dystopia rings true in 2021 PRECISELY because the systems of oppression she critiques remain. Further, her embodied experiences as a Black woman, impoverished and disenfranchised early in her writing career, positioned her to see the broader societal implications of these injustices because she and those in her community were already living in these dystopias (*Ash Baccus-Clark).


Even today, the majority of “mainstream” figures in the foresight field position Utopias as antidotes to Dystopias. Yet this approach tends to be deeply exclusionary, perpetuating the gaze and the experience of privilege, even if with a “green” twist. It must be said here that “environmental utopias” that do not address racial, Indigenous, gender, and disability justice are at best greenwashing, and, at worst, eco-fascism.

Utopian Futures are generally envisaged as so “perfect” that they can only exist by prodigiously leapfrogging all of the most urgent inequities of the present. Consequently, they are mostly closed to critical inquiry. Utopian imaginings pertain to communicating a peaceful and magically post-austerity world, yet somehow the peace of such a future is always peace without justice.

A non-whitewashed history tells us a horror story of 20th century top-down dreams of the “perfect society” morphing into eugenic, genocidal nightmares. We must remember that the Third Reich’s extermination of Jewish, Roma, Queer, and Disabled people was seen as a means to achieve an “Aryan Utopia”. As recently as 1994, apartheid was the Utopia for Afrikaaners, with the price paid by everyone “one shade darker” than white. The most recent chapter of these “Utopian” nightmares features Silicon Valley evangelists peddling technology to “connect all humanity” which has quickly shifted to extreme surveillance capitalism — commodifying every interaction, radicalizing us for clicks, exploiting us as products, and tearing at the very fiber of our social fabric.

And yet, even with all of this becoming public record, the best that many Futurist “thought leaders” seem to propose for the 22nd century is the absurdity of endless economic growth based on “exponential technology”.

The ideologues of exponentialism are dragging the mindset of the “Enlightenment” into their projected futures without any real analysis of colonial and capitalist exploitation consequences extending from past to present day and into the future. Such a techno-utopian mindset is dependent on limitless extractive economic growth, and it glosses over all genuine consideration for the cultural and biosphere extinctions that inevitably happen in the wake of that growth. The principal offerings of these ideas of infinite material expansion on a finite planet are always magical techno-fixes and, of course, space colonialism as its deus ex machina.

As we can see, both historical and contemporary iterations of Utopian envisioning are all very mired in ivory-tower delusions of colonizing grandeur: an utter insult to the planetary life AND our shared humanity.

So we ask here: Can either of these binary concepts truly represent the complex fabric of our lived realities or do they reduce them?


The critical setting of context is vital so we can at least attempt not to fall back into common future stereotypes. BUT! Just saying NO is not enough. Protopia is our framework for shared YES VISIONS of the future, intended to inspire and support us in making the hardest choices of the decades to come.

The word “Protopia” was coined in a 2011 blog post by Wired’s founding editor Kevin Kelly. Kelly’s initial idea of the concept came from the word “pronoia,” (the opposite of “paranoia”): an exuberant feeling that the entire world is rooting for you. At the time, however, it captured only a niche audience, being so early in the futures conversation, but possibly also for being very much an extension of Kevin Kelly and Stewart Brand’s techno-utopian thought.

At @protopiafutures, we have taken a significant departure from the original framing of “better futures” via the route of incremental technological innovation to proactive prototyping of radically hopeful and inclusive futures that shiftS the gaze from technological panaceas to focus on future cultural values and social ethics. Simply: technological innovation without humanitarian evolution always leads to Dystopian Futures. We consider humanity rather than the abstract notions of “technology/science” (as featured in Kelly’s 2010 book What Technology Wants) to be the drivers for said evolution. To boldly address past and present injustice and exploitative frameworks IS to strive to replace them with regenerative and equitable alternatives, rather than merely patching things up with inevitably temporary, disposable, technological solutions.


Superficially, one could perceive Protopian Futures as situated “between” Dystopia and Utopia, yet they are not particularly indebted to either. Dystopias/Utopias are monologues moored in the gaze of privilege, inevitably tied to boundaries of thought established via patriarchal settler colonialism. Protopia is a continuous dialogue, more a verb than a noun, a process rather than a destination, never finite, always iterative, meant to be questioned, adjusted, and expanded. Our goal is always to center the previously marginalized perspectives, especially those at the intersection of Indigeneity, Queerness, and Disability. Above all, Protopia explores visions of embodied HOPE, futures wherein we have come together, as imperfect as our condition is.

Protopian futuring is NOT to be solely bound to the realm of theoretical imagination. It is also very much about the methodology of creating (and recovering) blueprints for action. Our goal is to challenge the inevitability of imposed futures. We hope to create spaces of active imagining, resourcing in the present and moving towards collaborative visions of liberation (*Tiana Garoogian).

Unlike most Science Fiction which features distant time periods and fantastical locations (i.e. space colonialism, alien invasions, singularity/simulation projections, etc.), we want our speculative futures to explore time horizons no more than 30 years into the future and to take place primarily on Earth. We deem the narratives of life on our home planet the most urgent and compelling, and we critique the neocolonial approaches to space expansion.

Protopian visions are anchored in principles of:

plurality — beyond binaries,

community — beyond borders,

celebration of presence,

regenerative action & life as technology,

symbiotic spirituality,

creativity & emergent subcultures,

& evolution of cultural values.


  1. PLURALITY — BEYOND BINARIES: We consider mere “tolerance” a failure and actively resist the violence of sexism, misogyny, racism, colorism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, ageism, classism, and any other forms of exclusionary categorization and discrimination. Nothing embodies our approach as accurately as words by Alok Vaid-Menon: “Creativity reveals all categories to be artificial and unambitious.”
  2. COMMUNITY — BEYOND BORDERS: Our narratives are narratives of communities coming together rather than glorifications of individual “hero journeys” of magical saviors. COMMUNITY is the hero of our futures.
  3. CELEBRATION OF PRESENCE: Our futures are embodied and interdependent. We revel in expanded sensory experiences and consciously make vital space for neurodiverse and disability inclusive expressions of intimacy, care, and radical tenderness.
  4. REGENERATIVE ACTION & LIFE AS TECHNOLOGY: With recognition of destructive feedback loops already in motion, we consider sustainability solutions entirely insufficient and aim for regenerative practices in every aspect of our civilizational construct. We prioritize biological over mechanical technologies as the only truly viable long-term strategy. We grow, not just build.
  5. SYMBIOTIC SPIRITUALITY: We appreciate the importance of spiritual practices from the dawn of humanity and their role in human culture-making. We therefore quest for spiritual practices that acknowledge ancestral wisdom, whilst also expanding rather than stifling scientific inquiry.
  6. CREATIVITY & EMERGENT SUBCULTURES: From the interwoven journeys of our Ancestors to the future living fabrics of our cities, we celebrate the role of creativity beyond the elitism of disciplines previously labeled as “artistic.”
  7. EVOLUTION OF VALUES — CULTURE OF CONTRIBUTION: We must depart from colonial/neocolonial individualist cultures of exploitation and greed, and endeavor to nurture cultures of equity, contribution, and planetary mutuality. We envision the values of a material degrowth society.



  1. We recognize the rigid gender/sexual binary to be a recent, colonial invention. Gender and sexuality are not just a spectrum but an open, fluid exploration space. Futures are beyond the binary. The process of future-queering does not just benefit those living outside the oppressive, cis-heteronormative boundary; it opens the realm for all of us to be in a continuous becoming of our very own authentic, expanded selves.
  2. We challenge colonial fictions of race and embrace the extraordinary cultural plurality without stereotyping. We encourage the urgency to listen to the stories previously silenced and honour the full scope of their narrative complexity. We also recognize just how many among us have hybrid identities as “third-culture people”: we were either born, raised, or negotiate our lives in between cultures.
  3. Protopia positions a firmly antifascist narrative. No culture is self-contained or finite, but a continuum of history’s blending and humans on the move. We create no space for callous and violent chauvinist, nationalist, and xenophobic bigotry.
  4. Ableist worldviews have no place in Protopia. Challenging pervasive ableism in today’s language must go hand in hand with challenging the ableist infrastructures of our cities, academia, and social and cultural constructs. Disability and Neurodiversity have always been the forefront of innovation and the most vital creation nodes for networks of mutuality, catalyzers for a society that learns not by forceful normalization, punishment, and austerity but rather by adaptiveness, nurturing, and flexibility.
  5. Protopia acknowledges that ageism is a trap. Instead of continuing to draw generational lines, we explore the inversions of “conventional” hierarchies and recognize that we are in a continuous process of learning from diverse lived experiences.
  6. Low-context seclusionist thinking brought us to the brink of biosphere and societal collapse. We must resist isolationist approaches at all costs. We support the integration and melting of disciplinary boundaries. Contextual ecosystems education is vital; research and development within isolated fields, ideas, and discourses is leading towards obsolescence.


  1. Our stories must revolve around coming together to radically expand each other’s horizons, and most specifically to uplift the voices previously silenced. We converge not because we are similar but because, through our diverse knowledge and experience, we can complement each other, evolving as a plural planetary culture.
  2. Our narratives focus not just on relationships between diverse individuals within communities but also on relationships between these diverse communities. We do not intend to generalize, homogenize, or simplify our sometimes painfully interwoven histories.
  3. We are NOT trying to revive Western communitarian socialist frameworks of imposed homogeneity. Rather, we endeavor to learn from the indigeneity-rooted philosophies of interwoven, symbiotic coexistence.
  4. We advocate for moving away from cultural constructs based on Cartesian fabrications, such as “I think therefore I am.” Instead, we look to UBUNTU (*a nguni bantu term from Southern Africa): I am because we all are. We are human because we participate, belong, and share.


  1. Technologies are extensions of our mind and our biology. They should expand, not bind, human potential: intellectually, physically, creatively, spiritually, emotionally.
  2. We believe in the prospects of “technology at Human Scale, buildable by communities, maintainable by communities.” (Amber Case)
  3. The tools we design must bring us together rather than constrain, isolate, overwhelm, disembody, or split us apart. Technological innovation can only be deemed successful if it ensures safety whilst also enabling DIVERSE experiences of togetherness, collaboration, and co-presence.
  4. We delight in an expanding array of accessible physical experiences and expressions as the age of sensorial augmentation dawns, whilst also acknowledging the historical erasure of the embodied knowledge of Indigenous cultures. This sensorial expansion should NOT be led by the “wants” of the most privileged, but rather by the needs of the previously excluded.
  5. Honoring the sensual ritual as a place of ancestral reckoning (*Tiana Garoogian), Protopia revels in tenderness. We celebrate expansive, creative sexuality and the joy of human connection.


  1. The living world is neither “environment” nor “natural resources.’’ Such ways of framing pervert any possibility of an equitable relationship with the Planet. As Robin Wall Kimmerer reminds us in Braiding Sweetgrass, the language we use with “more-than-human beings” matters. We honor how language shapes our perceptions.
  2. Human-centric design is a design failure from the start. Human peoples will only thrive if they do not position themselves in the center but rather among and in relationship with all life. Life-centric design is the space we explore. As framed by Tyson Yunkaporta, “understanding biological networks appropriately means finding a way to belong personally to that system.”
  3. Life IS technology. We reject the obsession with “mechanical” technologies so prevalent in mainstream/commercial futurist discourse and instead embrace biology-based technologies and circular ecosystems design. Learning from the living world infuses our innovation. We move away not just from fossil fuel-based energy but also finite, mineral-based materials, striving to replace them with organic, living compounds. We move away from notions of “World Building” to World Growing.
  4. We must prevent the transition from anthropocene to eremocene — the age of loneliness having calamitously extinguished all other life forms on earth. As we imagine and design our future spaces (cities, workplaces, homes), we never design them just for “ourselves.” In the visions we work towards, we include all creatures — not just wild, “charismatic species” but also microscopic beings.
  5. Algae, mycelium/fungi, bacteria, and viruses are not forms of life to fear or disregard but to lean into. We honor these unsung heroes holding together the biological realm of this planet.
  6. As over 90% of DNA within our bodies belongs to the microbial biome, we see ourselves not as isolated entities (or distant floating islands) but as ever evolving ecosystems, in dense, continuous communication with the world and with each other. We honor the mind-body connection and our living inner landscapes, and we nourish them as we would a garden.
  7. We acknowledge the extraordinary damage brought about by a mechanized, reductionist version of agriculture, and seek a plurality of innovative and ancestral agricultural strategies needed to support all life on this planet. Protopia seeks to find balance between industry, Earth, and community.
  8. We must design future habitats outside the conventional duality of rural and urban. The living world seeps into our cities, and cities must nourish rather than consume the living landscapes they occupy. We imagine “built” environment and the living landscapes in symbiotic relationship with each other as living, breathing entities (*Radha Mistry).
  9. Our regenerative thought should not limit itself to the “visible landscapes” alone. The health of Earth’s oceans is as important as the land’s, the deep subterranean as much as the air we breathe. Everything we do is informed by appreciating the interconnectedness of it all.
  10. Most importantly, we must stop being a destructive force and aim to become a regenerative intelligence. We must engage in regenerative action in every critical civilizational choice that we make. In this, we depart from settler-colonial relationships with the land and relearn Indigenous, symbiotic worldviews. We remember living as entangled with and mutually dependent on everything that is alive within and alongside us. Unless science can meet us here, science fails.


  1. We honor the diverse intelligence of the living world and acknowledge our co-dependence, rather than continue to position ourselves as a superior consciousness.
  2. We are weary of “new age (con)spirituality” commodification practices bound to a colonial legacy (and neo-colonial occupations), mired in deeply ableist prejudices and exclusions.
  3. We seek spirituality and rituals that move beyond divisive religious dogmas which require the dehumanization of the “other.”
  4. We recognize the cultural importance of both ancestral and emerging spiritual practice, and of those design technologies that support them.
  5. In our cities, we keep and make space for places for accessible gathering. In our calendars, we make time for the celebratory rituals that appreciate the living world’s cycles, not just human “achievements.”
  6. We honor the sacredness of First Nations sites and restitute the Sacred Land. We acknowledge that linearity of time is not a universal truth. We remember and learn from cyclical life-visions of our Indigenous Ancestors.


  1. In the age of technological automation, creativity is the true survival skill of the future, especially when matched with critical and analytical thinking. We honor creativity as permeating everything that quests new pathways and brings joy — not just aesthetic and cultural but also scientific, social and political.
  2. The world has never seen such an explosion and emergence of new subcultures as it has today. Yet our future narratives, technologies, environmental efforts, and urban design remain mostly ignorant to it. Protopia embraces this Plurality of Creative Expression.
  3. The creativity of our youth must be encouraged, never diminished or denied. We, however, should not in any way perpetuate cultural ageism.
  4. Today, so much creativity is focused on “self-expression,” and often the ones who “speak the loudest” or have the greatest access to tools that amplify their voices get the most rewards. We dream of future creativity that equally explores deep listening/seeing.


  1. The capitalist model of the current economy is based on the idea of infinite growth on a finite planet. It is unsustainable and deadly. We must move past linear economies and engage the emergent values inherent in circular ways of being.
  2. We explore the emergent values and recalibrated cultural constructs of humanity on a path towards material degrowth. The sole civilizational aspect in which we could encourage infinite growth is knowledge.
  3. Politically, we do not subscribe to the obsolete binaries of conservative vs. liberal. What we define as an emergent political divide is extractive vs. regenerative politics. Extractive politics is anchored in the culture of exploitation, and its power is its capacity of expropriation. Regenerative politics emerges through the culture of equity and contribution, and privilege here translates to accountability and responsibility.
  4. The current novelty/innovation/youth-obsessed culture does not honor the importance of aging, death, and the depth of grief in our personal lives and within the larger social body. While techno-utopianism remains obsessed with immortality, Protopia embraces the importance of temporal experience, ecosystem regeneration that is inextricable from mortality, and the preciousness of every moment lived generously.


It is hard to believe we can eradicate the seeds of prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination entirely. We can strive, however, to make the cultural environment significantly more inhospitable for the further rise of fascism and other genocidal ideologies. We must, at the very least, imagine a world that gives as little oxygen as possible to such violence. None of this is feasible if we only look forward. We embrace the lessons of history from the perspectives of the oppressed rather than of the oppressors.

There can be no healing unless there is CHANGE. Protopia encourages the uncomfortable yet vital conversations about the harm we have experienced AND the harm in which we have participated. Rather than celebrating being “right,” we must vitalize the processes of learning and unlearning. Even as we evolve, we will experience failures, misunderstandings, and misalignments. But none of these instances are signs to give up. If we allow ourselves to be honest and vulnerable, they become opportunities through which we can deepen our engagement.


To begin to free ourselves, the first thing we need to do is to see ourselves again as historical actors, as people who can make a difference in the course of world events. This is exactly what the militarization of history is trying to take away. The ultimate hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make. And could just as easily make differently. — David Graeber (1961–2020)

With the awareness of exponential global warming, climate-pattern disruption, biosphere collapse, pandemic realities, disinformation warfare, fascist consolidation, and increasing inequality, time is of the absolute essence.

We MUST dream more expansive, hopeful futures, for their very purpose is to help us act in accordance with Protopian values in every step of our personal and professional lives. As Walidah Imarisha and Adrienne Maree-Brown write: “All organizing IS science fiction.” By supporting forward-looking and regenerative-action-focused grassroots activism, participating in local and international policymaking, and equally engaging with large-scale corporate entities, we shape the realm in which our future hopes breathe — or suffocate. Fundamental lasting change must come from and through all these complementing strategies, AND more.

The scope of our futures is the scope of our dreams.

We very much hope you come dream with us.


This work has been done with vital contributions and editing advice by (in alphabetic order): Ash Baccus-Clark, Alina Negoita, Amber Case, Angie Davis, Ari Kuschnir, Carmen Aguilar Y Wedge, Caroline Barrueco, Charles Shafaieh, Dorothy R. Santos, Efflam Mercier, Gemma Milne, Ibtisam Ahmed, India Osborne, Jamie Perera, Jenka Gurfinkel, Jess Vovers, Joseph Purdam, Kayus Bankole, Kefiloe Siwisa, Kevin Bethune, Lidia Zuin, Luisa Ji, Mark Gonzales, Mary Katherine Heinrich, Phoenix Perry, Pumla Maswangany, Radha Mistry, Rasigan Maharajh, Regina Walton, Romi Ron Morrison, Sarah B Brooks, Sydette Harry, Tiana Garoogian, Tyson Yunkaporta.

Images by Mario Mimoso & Monika Bielskyte. Logo by Kazuhiro Aihara. Text originally commissioned for #SkyAnyColour curated by Errolson Hugh & Rod Chong.


@PROTOPIAFUTURES was founded in 2019 as a research project by Monika Bielskyte but has quickly grown into a borderless collective across disciplines and cultures.

@PROTOPIAFUTURES combines the captivating power of entertainment productions with the value and depth of educational endeavors. Our collaborative research, creation, and curatorial projects seek out new avenues for audio-visual storyworld design. Through this work, we render more accessible the realms of critical knowledge of bleeding-edge scientific and technological innovation as well as evolutions in the cultural, social, political, and spiritual spheres.

We hope to facilitate a platform for creating glimpses into radically hopeful futures, and to open up conversations and explorations about what it takes to get there. With all that we do, we want to challenge the alienating dystopian/utopian SciFi stereotypes, and to inspire, and be inspired by, what truly inclusive futures could be. ❤



monika bielskyte
Protopia Futures

Futures researcher/futurist designer. Working on moving our popular imagination from Dystopia/Utopia to @ProtopiaFutures. 9 years a digital nomad.