The social imagining is the implicitly shared meaning of who WE are.

Without this unspoken identification with community the individual feels that life has no meaning.

In a stable culture, the individual regularly participates in the social imagining through the forms of play, custom, ritual and the arts that distinguish that society from others. The social imagining is also the unacknowledged framework of conscious thoughts and behaviour.

The social imagining is in crisis when these focal points no longer provide a tangible way for group meaning to resonate with individuals. Everyone is affected by unstable emotions but these are normally "contained" in the shared culture of play, custom, ritual and arts produced by an active social imagining.

An effect of the lowering of barriers between cultures, which is the mark of globalization is that:

  • holes open up in the psychological safety-net, which is the group-making function of the social imagining;
  • existing cultural structures do not generate enough psychological energy to maintain individual and group ego-stability against unconscious drives and moods (instability);
  • susceptible individuals become alienated, angry or transgress social norms because they are psychologically separated from routine affirmations of shared meaning of who we are as a society.

Globalization is a difficult phase but it is not the end of the line for the social imagining. As in the past, it should be a new beginning, because a social imagining is the slowly-evolved outcome of resonance between the symbolic group-making and the environment within which the group must survive.

  • A social imagining cannot be imposed but it has often in the past adapted old material to new circumstances.
  • This is why the history of imagery and an understanding of the nature of aesthetics is more important now than at any time in the past.

Safe societies during globalization will be the product of healthy social imaginings. That probably means adaptive social imaginings where people talk about, question and experiment with ways of expressing authorization and belonging.

© Virginia Kenny 2003.     Page last updated: Oct 12, 2001 5:26 pm