Rowman and Littlefield International

Social Imaginaries


Published on Friday 08 Sep 2017 by Suzi Adams, Erin Carlisle, Natalie Doyle, John Krummel, and Jeremy Smith

To think is not to get out of the cave; it is not to replace the uncertainty of shadows by the clear-cut outlines of things themselves, the flame’s flickering glow by the light of the true Sun. To think is to enter the Labyrinth; more exactly it is to make be and appear a Labyrinth when we might have stayed ‘lying among the flowers, facing the sky’. It is to lose oneself amidst galleries which exist only because we never tire of digging them; to turn around and round at the end of a cul-de-sac whose entrance has been shut off behind us—until, inexplicably, this spinning round opens up in the surrounding walls cracks which offer passage.

- Cornelius Castoriadis. Crossroads in the Labyrinth (1984 [1977]: x-xxi)

Why a labyrinth? Our Social Imaginaries logo draws on Cornelius Castoriadis’s labyrinth metaphor, as used in the quotation above. For Castoriadis, the myth of Daedalus’s labyrinth offers an image of human creation—knowledge, doing, politics, and truth are humanly created; what they offer is more than a mere pale shadow of the real. As such, Daedalus’s labyrinth offers an alternative approach to Plato’s Cave, to rethink questions of reason, thought, social creation, social doing, and truth. We not only explore and problematize the diverging corridors of the labyrinth, we also create each pathway, as well as their interconnections from which new worlds and counter-worlds, can be imagined and articulated. In this way, too, a labyrinth in Castoriadis’s sense is not a maze—the paths are not pre-given; there is no exit. The point for Castoriadis, as the quote above indicates, is that it is necessary to look into—and not away from—the labyrinth of human creations and creativity, to interrogate taken for granted assumptions about reality, meaning, history, and the human condition, especially in relation to the political form of societies. Especially in our contemporary, ‘post-truth’ situation, this form of ‘thinking doing’ takes on a particular urgency.

Such concerns are central to the Social Imaginaries book series project. This ground-breaking series fosters new research on the interlinked fields of the social imaginaries and the creative imagination. It offers a forum for debate and research into the social imaginaries field, as a ‘paradigm in the making’. The social imaginaries field offers rich theoretical frameworks, with concrete constellations of social imaginaries operating in and as history. As such, the book series brings together important philosophical and social-political theoretical work with historical and comparative analyses, from diverse interdisciplinary perspectives.

The contributions to this series will address a cluster of key problematics. The social imaginaries perspective considers social change and historical movement by challenging the problematic of social-historical continuity/discontinuity. An approach to social and historical imaginaries helps to articulate the historicity of the human condition in civilizational analyses, as well as contemporary problématiques of modernity, multiple modernities, and globalization. Such a view opens up questions about the alteration of historical and cultural patterns and the diversity of socio-cultural interpretations of the human condition in the world.

Yet, while some imaginaries have longer histories—rooted in the axial age, or at the turn of modernity, for example—others are contemporary and bear with them a sense of emergency, alienation, or atrophy in the human condition. The Social Imaginaries book series also helps to illuminate, and indeed scrutinize the political, epistemic, economic, and ecological imaginaries—for example––that configure the contemporary world. Our current context is characterised by such global socio-political trends as populism, contemporary forms of nationalism, globalism, neoliberalism, et cetera. A social imaginaries perspective may help us to better understand these contemporary shifts to provide a diagnosis of our times; particularly in light of the so-called crisis of imagination and rising tide of ‘insignificancy’, which has been characterised as a loss of the capacity to imagine a different collective world. The problematisation inherent to social imaginaries approaches, and the kind of ‘thinking doing’ that Castoriadis (and others) elucidated, can assist in opening up these questions, and in considering alternative possibilities for human social creativity within this contemporary context of ‘crisis’.

This historical and socio-political analysis is supported by philosophical and theoretical inquiries into social imaginaries and the creative imagination. Many key thinkers are drawn on to enrich the social imaginaries field – from Charles Taylor to Paul Ricoeur, from Claude Lefort to Cornelius Castoriadis, from Durkheim to Merleau-Ponty, from Kant to Arendt, from Husserl to Heidegger, and from Nishida to Miki. Social imaginaries incorporate symbolic and imaginary dimensions, and are often connected to articulations of cultural meaning. Digging deeper, social imaginaries comprise configurations of power, and involve modes of social doing that manifest in the forms of the society in question. The creative, self-alteration of society, as historical movement, is possible through the interconnected dimensions of the creative imagination and social imaginaries. Philosophical and theoretical inquiries into these fields unpack the implications of the intercourse between imagination and meaning, self, and society, in a move beyond cognitivist and functionalist debates that bypass the creative, imaginary dimension of society and history.

With the Social Imaginaries book series, we invite you to enter the labyrinth: to inquire into the creative potentialities of the human imagination, the imaginary element of history and society, and to problematize the contemporary condition of the world. The following short video mash-up depicts the journey into the labyrinth, as a reflection on Castoriadis’s words from Crossroads in the Labyrinth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOhl5WMeQe4&t=1s

Ricoeur and Castoriadis in Discussion: On Human Creation, Historical Novelty, and the Social Imaginary is the first title in the Social Imaginaries series