Social unconscious as imaginary

Taylor (2004) offers an interesting view of social imaginaries, defining it as "ways people imagine their social existence, how they fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations" (p. 23). Not so much an abstract idea, "rather it is what enables, through making sense of, the practices of a society" (p. 2). In different words, practices "carry" an understanding, (in) forming contexts of action and reflection; human beings and groups, "trade on familiarity with a background" (Taylor, 1993, p. 326). The social imaginary can be likened to an enterprise of "world-building", the creation of meaningful orders (nomos) within which individuals and groups live out their lives. Berger (1969) uses the evocative expression "sacred canopy", to characterise this process, although secular societies are no less "world-built" than religious ones. The key phrase in Taylor's definition is imagine their existence, referring to those metaphors, images, and stories whose occurrence nothing could predetermine or predict. In this way, the social imaginary is not simply a "cover" or "reflection", which like a camera obscura, misrepresents reality or legitimates "something else", considered more important and determining (e.g., class interests, the economy, repressed wishes, etc.).

Like Taylor, Ricoeur (1984a) regards social imaginaries as involving active myths, ideals, collective stories, and symbolising identities. An example is the category "nation", imagined, "because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear them, yet in their minds each lives the image of their communities" (Anderson, 1981). In this usage, and in mine, the imagined connotes the creative and compositional rather than the false or illusory, with national communities, in this example, assuming and interpellating subjects on the basis of the existence of a "deep, horizontal comradeship" (Anderson, 1981, p. 7), including inevitable differentiations from other, adjacent communities. It is this very creativity that makes the social imaginary difficult to observe as object, because it concerns the constant generation of worlds, the delineation of possibilities and the constitution of exclusions; because of this dynamic movement and because we are part of its generative labour, it remains elusive. Continually expanding, contracting, and redefining, the imaginary space is a changing space.

The diagram below (Figure 1) crudely illustrates the social imaginary as the overall horizon of a given society. The diagram should be seen as both cross-sectional (synchronic, but not static) and time-dependent (diachronic). At what point or time does one world, as it were, grade into another? It is suggested that such space/time demarcations or transitions (e.g., between the medieval "Kingdom of God" and its enemies—"heathen", "Lands of the Infidel", "anti-Christ"; or from one "era" or "epoch" to another, such as from a pre- to post-revolutionary

Social imaginary.

Figure 1. Social imaginary.

society, or from an austere-conservative time to an affluent-permissive period) is more like a fog than a precise boundary, regions within which certain beings and possibilities take form, become visible, or, alternatively, recede from sight. The monsters and deformed beings of early modern times are a good illustration of such places and the symbolism contained therein, playing an important role as a constitutive outside, "where maps run out" (Kearney, 2003, p. 1). Hence, something like "dark", linked to evil and images of purgatory, serves to articulate the light and glory of heaven—"an external reification of 'what-is-not' . offering itself as a template up against . 'what-is' . could be defined and measured" (Bildhauer & Mills, 2003, p. 56; Weegmann, 2008; Williams, D., 1996). In medieval iconography and hagiography, saints and monsters confront each other as though needing each other. It should not be assumed that excluded figures and elements are necessarily "far away" geographically, since they may just as likely reside deep within the body of the social, its inner demons, perhaps within the neighbour or wayfarer, who might be a leper, beggar, or witch. Frontiers, and the liminal creatures that populate them, are ultimately undecidable, with what is "inside" and what "outside" co-determined.

 
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