In this paper, drawing on the works of Benedict Anderson, Arjun Appadurai and Charles Taylor, I will discuss and elaborate on the idea of „social imaginary” as an enabling but not fully explicable symbolic matrix within which a people imagine and act as world making collective agents. Within the folds of a social imaginary, we see themselves as agents who traverse a social space and inhabit a temporal horizon, entertain certain beliefs and norms, engage in and make sense of our daily practices in terms of purpose, timing, and appropriateness, and exist among other agents. It is a hermeneutic of everyday life, closer to Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus. It gives us a sense of who we are, how we fit together, how we got where we are, and what we might expect from each other in carrying out collective practices that are constitutive of our way of life.
A social imaginary is a work of imagination. But the notion of imagination here departs significantly from the traditional philosophical understanding as an individual faculty preoccupied with the aesthetic realm. Instead here imagination is seen as a collective social fact and practice that is incessantly at work in constructing „imagined worlds” for people living among strangers and in deterritorialized spaces under the conditions of modernity, especially global modernity.
Dilip Gaonkar is the Director of the Center for Global Culture and Communication at Northwestern University, where he also teaches in the Program in Rhetoric and Public Culture. He is the Executive Editor of a journal, Public Culture, and the Director of a Chicago-based network of international scholars and cultural critics called The Center for Trans-cultural Studies.
He has published extensively in rhetorical theory and global cultural studies which include edited volumes Disciplinary and Dissent in Cultural Studies (1996), Alternative Modernities (2001), and Cultures of Democracy (forthcoming).