Radical Social Imaginaries

Cinema and Radical Social Imaginaries

Ever since the world financial crisis of 2007-2008, many scholars have turned their attention once more to questioning of the nature of the system of late capitalism and the long term implications of its crisis, pointing to environmental issues, demographic and immigration problems, social disparity, overconsumption, military conflict, rise of fundamentalism, etc. Explanations of the crises of our times vary from human nature, an ill-conceived Anglo-Saxon model of neoliberal capitalism, over-accumulation, historical tendency of rate of profit to fall, the blockage of new forms of capital accumulation and monopoly stagnation (Feldner, Vighi, Zizek, 2014) Another way to address how all these issues pertain to the totality of the socio-economic system in its current historical stage of global capitalist expansion is to go back to the concept of the social imaginary as outlined by Cornelius Castoriadis.

For Castoriadis (1997) every society has its own social imaginary rooted in a particular social-historical context. The formation of the social imaginary happens “within an institution (the institution of society as a whole) with its norms, values, language, tools, methods of doing and dealing with things; the individual is conditioned by the structure and meaning of the social language, the organization of the world within this language, the organization of family, environment, school, of ‘does’ and ‘don’ts’, of friends, opinions in circulation, ways forced on individuals by artifacts that surround them.”The social imaginary contains a set of significations: “complex webs of meanings: spirits, gods, God, polis, nation, state, party, commodity, money”. The social imaginary of a society builds on particular founding myths. The social imaginary of Western capitalism is based on the founding myths of modernity of science and technology, replacing the sacred with a new mythical notion of the future as progress, as opposed to repetition or realization of a mythical Promise – the return of a messiah; a progress that promises infinite growth and accumulation.

Castoriadis argues that the formation of the social imaginary —and the tension between instituting (history in the making) society in opposition to instituted (history made) society— has the potentiality of being an open process and has to do with the “shared universe of meaning” of the institutions involved in the specific historical process. Thus, the historical forces that form and shape the imaginary institutions of society are contingent upon socio-political and economic struggles. This brings about the hope for a radical social imaginary, which emerges as “otherness” and challenges the instituted society. It is an imaginary that is radical in epistemological and ontological sense.

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As part of this research probe investigating the possible contours of our contemporary radical social imaginary, the Intermedia Research Studio is screening a selection of films from the Soviet Union, Canada, Argentina, Germany, Czech Republic and The Balkans. The film screenings present an opportunity to engage with the social imaginary as it plays out in film as an art form and aim to generate discussion around representations of the social imaginaries of late modernity with its various forms, with a focus on historicizing those representations, both in the core and periphery. How do these films narrate life under contemporary capitalism?; What aspects of contemporary life finds filmic representation and what is left out? How are these stories told? Do these films open alternative ways to imagine the unfolding of its story? In analyzing these films as cultural texts we endeavour to articulate a critique of ideology but also to (re)construct potentialities for a radical social imaginary.

Some of the themes the film series examine are:

the Soviet social imaginary of capitalism
post-socialism and consumer culture
fascism as the dark side of capitalism
alienation and estrangement
the urban and the rural
petrocultures and settler colonialism
militarism and core-periphery relations with the Big (Br)Other
is another world possible?

Bozhin Traykov


Critical Outlooks:

January 14th — March 10th 2016
Thursdays, 4:30 p.m.
Lecture Theatre 1 & 4,
Humanities Centre

The movies in this film series reflect crises in distinctive styles. If crisis is rooted in collapse of systems of representation, whereby signifiers attain their structure and meanings acquire their relative fixity of utterance, then modernity has never lived without crises. We are heirs to self-perpetuating crises, which have reproduced us as their own presuppositions. This is why reflection of a crisis is always linked to existential tremors.
Critique attains its force from the critical conditions which surround it, and reverts this critical force as its necessary conclusion. To the extent that critique relies on a dialectical reversion of critical orders, critique needs not only to (re)present but also produce crisis. Krinein, the latin root which delivers critique, does not, at the same time, hesitate to animate crisis as its coeval derivation and realization.
In its modern sense, critique is indebted to the works of Kant and Marx. While with the critical philosophy of Kant critique turned into an ‘autonomous authority of free and public examination in the court of reason,’1 Marx blurred the distinction between pure and practical reasons to set the goals of critique as ‘the self-clarification of struggles and wishes of the age.’2
The movies contained in this series display both senses of critique. They appear as critics and arbiters of social life at the same time that they attempt to rethink, reformulate and revive the struggles of individuals against fate, injustice, absurdity, domination and totality. They do not present images of a better society, but rather bear witness to the rifts, disintegrations and the failing promises of the time.
(Re)Thinking, (re)interpreting and reimagining are integral elements of Critical Outlooks. The point is not to precipitate change, to be part of a change which is simulating vicious loops at a maddening pace; the existing order of things has transposed itself to a point of no return where every transformative move is reversed to an infinity of reproduction of the same. When every change is returning to an identical point of reference, one does not need to participate in it; one needs to question the teleology of all change, to re-examine the course of development; one needs perhaps to stop in order to interpret this transformation, so that the world, to use Baudrillard’s words, ‘does not do it without us and ends up being a world without us’.3

Mahmood Exiri Fard

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