Monday, February 21, 2011

“Social Imaginaries”: Broader, Deeper, Wider, Stronger

Lander Hultin, Starter Presentation from 17. February, 2011

“In talking of our self-understanding, I am particularly concerned with what I will call our “social imaginary”, that is, the way we collectively imagine, even pre-theoretically, our social life . . .” (146)

Methodological Relevance: The “more than” principle

· the social imaginary is a non-reductive counter to the temptation of subtraction stories

· if the social imaginary is more than can be theoretically articulated (173) then subtraction stories as explicit theories telling a straight-shot story cannot be sustained and are glaringly insufficient

173: “It is in fact that largely unstructured and inarticulate understanding of our whole situation . . . It can never be adequately expressed in the form of explicit doctrines, because of its very unlimited and indefinite nature.”

Difference between “social imaginary” and “social theory”: Power to the (ordinary) people!

(1) Ordinarily expressed: ‘Imaginary’ because ordinary people do not usually imagine their social surroundings in theoretical terms; rather this imaginary is carried, loaded into and unloaded out of, images, stories, legends, and so on.

(2) Sufficiently social: ‘Theory’ is insufficiently social – typically theory is held by a small minority rather than the ‘imaginary’ that is shared by large groups of people

(3) A Better Possibility: Consequently, an ‘imaginary’ better accounts for common practice and the correlate sense of shared legitimacy—‘social imaginary’ is a more adequate condition of possibility

Complexity: both factual and “normative”

· Factual: a sense of how things usually go

· Normative: but also an idea of how things ought to go

Our normative understanding also shows us “what would constitute a foul”

More than Heidegger: Not just one-sided

172: “the social imaginary extends beyond the immediate background understanding which makes sense of our particular practices”

· In short this is because our practices also inform our background understandings, not just the other way around

o In other words, the understanding carries the practice and the practice carries the understanding. Both serve as possibility conditions for each other. In fact in having “no clear limits” the “wider grasp” of a social imaginary, it seems, complicates the very idea of the conditions of possibility. It is, as Taylor often repeats, much more than that.

173: “If the understanding makes the practice possible, it is also true that it is the practice which largely carries the understanding.”




Understood Practice, Practiced understanding

The “repertory” inherent: our implicit “map” of social space:

This “repertory” is the collection of common actions that we, as a social group, know how to perform. Again, this “know how” is pre-theoretical and in some sense, it seems, Taylor again pushes past Heidegger’s practical “know how” to show that this environmental familiarity cannot be explicated.

Webbed in Imagination: The Wider World

174: The social imaginary doesn’t include everything in our world—it isn’t total. But at the same time the features which make things make sense cannot be encompassed or “circumscribed” and consequently the social imaginary draws on our whole world.

In other words, we may not include every social aspect of every society, but there is a sense in which each society is webbed together such that the social imaginary of one society will tug at or pull on every other.

Meta-philosophical Question: How Do We Now Do Philosophy?

Is Taylor’s A Secular Age a work of philosophy? Does his (sometimes frustrating) story-telling better uncover the structures of human life? Is the point of philosophy to “uncover” in the first place? Is there a philosophy of the unsayable? If so, what’s the point of still saying something?

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