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NEW Humane Standards

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Social Imaginary

The imaginary (or social imaginary) is the set of values, institutions, laws, and symbols through which people imagine their social whole.


In 1975, used the term in his book The Imaginary Institution of Society, maintaining that 'the imaginary of the society ... creates for each historical period its singular way of living, seeing and making its own existence'.[4] For Castoriadis, 'the central imaginary significations of a society ... are the laces which tie a society together and the forms which define what, for a given society, is "real"'.


While not constituting an established reality, the social imaginary is nevertheless an institution in as much as it represents the system of meanings that govern a given social structure. These imaginaries are to be understood as historical constructs defined by the interactions of subjects in society. In that sense, the imaginary is not necessarily "real" as it is an imagined concept contingent on the imagination of a particular social subject. Nevertheless, there remains some debate among those who use the term (or its associated terms, such as imaginaire) as to the status of the imaginary.

“The image, the imagined, the imaginary — these are all terms that direct us to 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 somewhere else), no longer simple escape (from a world defined principally by more concrete purposes and structures), no longer elite pastime (thus not relevant to the lives of ordinary people), and no longer mere contemplation (irrelevant for new forms of desire and subjectivity), the imagination has become an organized field of social practices, 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.”

Arjun Appadurai — Anthropologist

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