Exploring the Social Imagination

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Strangeness of Change in the American Social Imagination....


For a sociologist, it is very interesting to observe social change. In America, we can see change everywhere and it is not 'new'. Change is somehow purported as 'new' or what we need right here and now. The funny thing is that Americans think that they love change as they are always on the move, 'changing' or at least they think they are. Social change is not really change. One of my favorite classical social theorist is Cornelius Castoriadis. He wrote a book from his observations of society titled - The Imaginary Institution of Society: 1975.

One of Castoriadis' many important contributions to social theory was the idea that social change emerges through the social imaginary without strict determinations, but in order to be socially recognized it must be instituted as revolution.  Why? Because, the individual radical imagination and the social imagination can only be joined in a mass as in massive collective demonstration for change in order that it come to fruition for the one and for the group as both exist within the mass of social imagination. 

Especially, since  the social imaginary at large cannot be reduced or attributed to a subjective imagination, since the individual is informed through an internalization of social significations - subjected to and a product of socialization. The social imaginary of the one is as much his/hers as it is the groups'; necessarily, for the individual to even have a social imagination of him/herself. 
By that, we can sense that Castoriadis meant that societies, together with their laws and legalizations, are founded upon a basic conception of the world and man's place in it. Traditional societies had elaborate imaginaries, expressed through various creation myths, by which they explained how the world came to be and how it is sustained... for the one and the group.

Capitalism did away with this mythic imaginary by replacing it with what it claims to be pure reason. That same imaginary is, interestingly enough, the foundation of its opposing ideology, Communism.
Does that mean 'change' is what we think it is or just a matter of rolling over in the bed of social interaction tired from sleeping 'being' on one side for too long. I think the later. 

And, Castoriadis seem to conclude the same. It means that as much as the individual thinks of change for him/herself radically, it is not so from a bird's eye from of change within a group. Names and or positions can change and so one's thinking about a change ... which is really a need for something other than the same ole same ole after being in a place for a long time. But, the individual in the 'group' simply longs to assert their imagination in way that they gives them in their social reality/imagination only a new view on the same thing. 

We say we like change but rather we still prefer what is safe and familiar like our bed in which or where sleeping on the same side gets old. So, we just roll over and nothing more. Social change cannot and will never be more than that and quite often the individual in that experience can feel as if something happened when nothing happened... and well it did and it didn't.  

We ourselves as Americans are experiencing that now - 'change' and though it maybe called that it is change like any other so called change that we have experienced in the recent past and in the long ago past as well.  We read about change and either weep or rejoice that we/you are still who you are and are not. Why/how? The imaginary institution of society thus is understood... the individual thinks that change has finally come about and it has been somehow a radical change through their initiative toward change being a self- labeled 'social movement  warrior'.  Really?

What has actually happened in the end is only imagined. There is no radical change, only what was is somehow different but not really. One could call it transition from one arrangement to another of the same sort. And, not even a funny or somehow 'profound' beer commercial will ever fundamentally reconstruct society. Because, any society that sees itself as such a 'society' has only growing pains for  'change' ... better, what is simply the desire to roll over and sleep on the other side for awhile. And, as strange as it may sound, there is some kind of social justice in that kind of social change.

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