Anthropological and linguistics articles from University of Western Australia

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Imagination, Globalisation and Social Movements by Marco Hewitt

Monday, July 30, 2007
Some quick notes on the Imagination, Globalisation, and Social Movements

Benedict Anderson (1991), in his book Imagined Communities, famously theorised the relationship between the imagination and the emergence of nationalism. Arjun Appadurai (Appadurai 1996) has since gone on to develop further this theory of the imagination in relation to globalisation. In his own words, he says:

There is “something critical and new in global cultural processes: the imagination as a social practice. No longer mere fantasy (opium for the masses whose real work is elsewhere), no longer simple escape (from a world defined principally by more concrete purposes and structures), no longer mere contemplation (irrelevant for new forms of desire and subjectivity), the imagination has become an organized field of social practice, a form of work (in the sense of both labor and culturally organized practice), and a form of negotiation between sites of agency (individuals) and globally defined fields of possibility...The imagination is now central to all forms of agency, is itself a social fact, and is the key component of the new global order”, Modernity at Large, p. 31.

Following Appadurai, transnational media and communications technologies are engendering a sense of an imagined global community, as well as producing an enriched sense of possibilities in people’s imaginations; for example, with regards to the potential for one to attempt to better one’s lot through transnational migration.

This crucial nexus between dreams and reality, between the virtual and the actual; between the possible and the manifest; and between the mind and the world, is not just at play in the process that Appadurai describes – that being, globalisation augmenting imaginative possibilities about the self – but it is also of critical importance in any consideration of transformative social movements.

In his recent book, Time for Revolution, Antonio Negri (2005) writes: "The enormous power of scientific labour, and of the intellectual organization of associated human labour [associated with postmodern Empire], enables us to repropose the project of the imagination to Power, or better, against Power.”

Furthermore, Michel Foucault (1978) writes that “it is the connection of desire to reality that possesses revolutionary force”. The Surrealists too saw the dream as revolutionary, attempting as they did to bring together the psychological liberation of individual desire with the social and political liberation envisaged by Karl Marx.

The imagination is surely central to social movements considering that one might say activists engage in struggle in order to bring about imagined alternative worlds. This is evident in one of the slogans of the Global Justice Movement: “Another World is Possible!”. Is it this possibility to imagine that things might be otherwise that drives social movements? Desire as primary, as per Deleuze and Guattari's (1987) formulation?

Works cited

Anderson, B. 1991, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the origins and spread of nationalism, Verso.

Appadurai, A. 1996, Modernity at large: Cultural dimensions of globalization, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. 1987, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
Foucault, M. 1978, 'Foreword', in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, eds G. Deleuze & F. Guattari, Paris

Negri, A. 2005, Time for Revolution, Continuum.

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