Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Changing & Creating “social imaginaries”

Written by: on April 4, 2013

According to Charles Taylor in his book “Modern Social Imaginaries,” a social imaginary involves “…the ways people imagine their social existence…” (250)  He states that currently we have a moral order in place that supposes the following points: 1. mutual benefit between individuals, 2. the means to life by practicing virtue, 3. freedom and individual rights, and 4. equality of rights. (244-248) This moral order, established by a variety of philosophers and leaders, has formed part of our “long march,” “…a process whereby new practices, or modifications of old ones, either developed through improvisation among certain groups and strata of the population. … or else were launched by elites in such a way as to recruit a larger and larger base.” (326-330)

This moral order stands as a reaction against non-freedom, no rights and no equality.  And yet, we as humans have believed another “social imaginary,” one that breaks down this moral order, that of limited resources.  This “social imaginary” has caused humanity to react against the moral order for numerous resources including land, food, water, oil, and even humans.  The “moral order” disintegrates to ashes when enough humans encroach on other humans in order to acquire more resources.  My questions are: “Do we have limited resources, or do we have unlimited resources, which we have poorly used?  Have we allowed our greed to push us into using our resources as a quick way to make money and thereby created limited resources?  If we were knowledgeable enough and had the integrity to use our resources within the “moral order” would consumerism have shaped our world and with it the “need” for wars?  Our historical “long march” is a war narrative.  It is the story of conquest.  It manifests in the way that we do those two topics you don’t bring up at a party – politics and religion.  Why, because we view both as battle grounds.  What if we chose to transform our political and religious “social imaginaries” from battlegrounds to greeting spaces?  Is that too idealistic?  Will there ever be enough humans to enact that kind of tipping point into a new “social imaginary?”  Or will our war narrative be the same for eternity?

Taylor asks, “What exactly is involved when a theory penetrates and transforms the social imaginary?” He explains, “…For the most part, people take up, improvise, or are inducted into new practices. These are made sense of by the new outlook,… the context that gives sense to the practices. … the new understanding comes to be accessible to the participants in a way it wasn’t before. It begins to define the contours of their world and can eventually come to count as the taken-for-granted shape of things, too obvious to mention. (319-322)

Does it matter to us that our human story continues to be one of greed, poorly used resources and war, leading to extinction?  What new story do we want to write?  Could the moral order lead us to the creation of new “social imaginaries” in the realm of resource management?  Some believe the “social imaginary” that we are corrupt beings unable to write a new story.  Others believe the “social imaginary” of humans made in the image of God who are capable of working together with the divine to create a “heavenly kingdom on earth.” 

What are the things that we have taken for granted that are too obvious to mention?  How do these “social imaginaries” shape you individually?  How do they shape your view of the Divine, religion, culture, society, resources, the world?

If you could change a “social imaginary” which one would you change and what would it look like?

If you could create a new “social imaginary” what would it be?

Charles Taylor. Modern Social Imaginaries (Kindle Locations 326-329). Kindle Edition.

Image: “Garden of Eden” Andrew Annenberghttp://andrewannenberg.com/Portfolio/Garden_of_Eden/Garden_of_Eden_large/garden_of_eden_large.html

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