Note from an Editor: Futurity and The Politics of Imagination
The imagination has emerged as a central concept in recent years, as scholars in socio-economics and social theory contend with the vicissitudes of new technologies of prediction and speculation that increasingly shape our social worlds (Beckert 2016; Bottici 2014; Bottici and Challand 2012; Geuss 2009). Indeed, the question of imagination – of what figures are thinkable, to borrow a term from Cornelius Castoriadis (1999) – is perhaps the central question of politics. Whose policy proposals, whose political programs, whose visions for a future society can be imagined; that is, conceived of as possible, as enact-able, and not merely dismissed as outlandish and unfathomable? Given the 2019 Annual SASE Conference’s themes, “Fathomless Futures: Algorithmic and Imagined,” this year our group of editors has decided to assemble our contributions under the theme of futurity.
It is quite difficult for me to reflect upon the themes of futurity and imagination without noting that this past year marked the passing of a writer who stretched the limits of our understanding of both: on 22 January 2018, Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) bid farewell to this world, leaving behind a legacy of literary texts that forcedly bring the question of imagination to the front of politics. Discussing the characterization of her fictional novels as utopian, Le Guin wrote:
In the sense that it offers a glimpse of some imagined alternative to ‘the way we live now’, much of my fiction can be called utopian, but I continue to resist the word. […] To me the important thing is not to offer any specific hope of betterment but, by offering an imagined but persuasive alternative reality, to dislodge my mind, and so the reader’s mind, from the lazy, timorous habit of thinking that the way we live now is the only way people can live. It is that inertia that allows the institutions of injustice to continue unquestioned. […] The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary.
(Le Guin, “A War Without End”)
Like Castoriadis, Le Guin saw the imagination of possible futures as a primary site of the struggle between settled powers and progressive politics. As the sites and mechanisms of power in advanced industrial societies become increasingly financialized (Palley 2016; Epstein 2005), and indeed, more complex (Sassen 2014), the imagination of political alternatives and possible futures confronts new challenges. Our hope is that the pieces gathered in this issue contribute to sparking that human faculty that Castoriadis saw as essential: the creative imagination, through which the institutions of society might be questioned and refigured anew.
Agatha Slupek, Editor-in-Chief
* This article is taken from the SASE Winter Newsletter 2018/19 – Click here to go back to the Contents Page*