Snapshot: Social Imaginaries and Global Realities
Scholars today, in the context of the radically changing world in which we live, are raising fresh questions about the ways ordinary people shape contemporary realities, particularly the ways in which they function and even flourish in groups. In a kind of laboratory of emerging ideas, one set of scholars is defining and examining what they call the new social imaginary. These scholars are thinking about how people in the everyday life of our time collectively invent and administer the systems that surround and sustain them. Indeed, the scholars themselves are working as a collective, comparing their individual findings and commenting on one another’s discoveries. In that sense, they are creating a scholarly imaginary of their own, out of which they are growing their shared understandings of the new social imaginary. Much of their thinking is collected in essay form in Public Culture 14, no. 1, the special issue on new imaginaries edited by Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar and Benjamin Lee (2002).
The themes of the new social imaginary as conceived by these scholars are still very much in development, but in my view there is an urgent need for them to be circulated. I will argue that ideas and theories about current conditions may be most in need of circulation while they are in the process of being formed. It is in this state of gestation that ideas are most apt to stimulate debate, influence and inflect discussion, and engage decision makers. The understandings of the social imaginary being formulated can counter or confirm ideas already circulating in public discussion; they can generate a sense of the optional or the opposites in a given debate; they can provide substance to subjects emerging in the public sphere. Precisely when opinion is dynamic and change is occurring, there is the need for multiple influences, myriad interpretations, and ideas in the making. In short, there are times when we cannot wait for scholarship to be finished.
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