Difference between revisions of "Imaginary Constitution of Society"

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Revision as of 06:35, 4 May 2021

  • Book: L'institution Imaginaire de la Société. Cornelis Castoriadis.



This is a summary of part III only, from the reading notes of Michel Bauwens, in 2005:

- Part III: L’imaginaire et l’institution, premier abord

Context: There are 3 sources of symbolic thought:

   - 1. the perceived
   - 2. the rational
   - 3. the imaginary

For example: when a slave is considered an animal, or a worker as a commodity , then this is neither caused by perception nor reason, but by the social imaginary.

Thus the social imaginary is the source of meaning, but cannot itself be represented.

- "L'aliénation n’est ni l'inhérence à l’histoire, ni l'existence de l’institution comme telle. Mais, l'aliénation apparaît comme une modalité du rapport à l'institution et à l'histoire. C’est cette modalité qu’il nous faut élucider, et pour cela mieux comprendre ce qu’est l’institution."

Alienation appears as class domination but goes beyond, and so emancipation must go beyond it as well. In class society, institutions are alienated from society, and mystify it. There's a process of autonomisation of the institutions. In his search for explanations, Castoriadis rejects the functionalist hypothesis (i.e. that institutions fulfill a social function), not as 'wrong', but as incomplete. The key for him, is that institutions exist in the symbolic order. Castoriadis uses different examples from religion and law to show that institutions are not rational / functional! He also explains how the imaginary can add or transform the meaning of symbols. Imagination is seeing things that are not there, not 'given' by reality.

Symbolism thus at the same time contains real-rational elements, which 'represent' reality, and imaginary elements. The imaginary creates something ir-reducable, and which 'creates' realities, that mere functional-rational interpretations cannot explain.

   - “L’institution est un réseau symbolique, socialement sanctionné, ou se combinent en proportions et en relation variables, une composante fonctionnelle, et une composante 
   - "L'aliénation, c’est l’autonomisation et la dominance du moment imaginaire dans l’institution, qui entraîne l’autonomisation de l’institution.”

This is so because it means that people do not recognize that the institutions are produced by themselves. The imaginary, says Castoriadis, is not created, the result of, because humanity has unresolved needs, and is frustrated. People in Scandinavia have food and security, and yet, they do not constitute autonomous societies. There exists some basic kind of social imaginary, which does not signify and refer to a signified, but itself creates a wide field of meaning. It is only measurable by its effects (like God in a traditional society). It is certainly NOT reducible to an individual consciousness, though that may be a partial aspect of it. (“La psyché individuelle ne peut être isolé d’un continuum social.”)

The social imaginary, which can only be built on already existing symbolism, answers the basic questions of human life in the particular society: who are "we" ? what are we to each other ?, etc ... Answer that cannot be produced by the real or the rational. These questions and answers are not explicitly given in language but emerge from the doing. Marxism is wrong to deduce these things without regard to the meaning given and the experiences by the actors themselves. This symbolic identity is to be found in the name given to a community, and today expressed in the 'nation'. Nothing is human society is purely functional: food, clothing, etc ... all have 'values' attached to them, beyond their utility.