Colonisation of the imagination#
The current worldview, known as the Anthropocene, refers to the widespread and extensive effects of human interference on our planet. The Anthropocene is underpinned by injustice, ecological collapse, and capitalism. To transcend this epoch, we need to collectively imagine alternative social and economic structures. In doing so, we’ll release the shackles of the ‘no alternative’ discourse that has been drummed into society by the likes of Margaret Thatcher, who stated that “global capitalism is the only system that works” and echoed by George Bush who claimed the American way of life is “non-negotiable”. The legacy of these statements is entrenched in our society today with the dominance of neoliberal capitalism filling our lives, spaces, and imaginations.
Frederic Jameson famously stated that “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”, a statement that successfully articulates how capitalism has limited the horizons of our imagination by diminishing human potential. Whilst Jameson made this observation over 20 years ago, with the latest IPCC report concluding that the climate crisis will hit sooner and with worse effects than anticipated, the sentiment still rings true. The urgency of what’s happening to all life on Earth propels the need for radical imagination.
It’s not just the climate crisis hindering our ability to imagine something better, we’re caught in a perfect storm of economic stress, dwindling attention spans and invasive technology. Economic austerity creates conditions which are profoundly damaging to the imagination by increasing anxiety and trauma. We spend less time in nature and carry highly addictive devices in our pockets which devour time and space that would otherwise be used for daydreaming and creativity.
To find hope in the midst of uncertainty, it’s imperative we find tangible, concrete ways to move forward. The speakers in this session offered thoughts on how we can rekindle our collective imagination.
Envisioning the future#
Renowned futurist Jim Dator claimed, “any statement about the future should at first seem ridiculous”. It’s this kind of statement that fuels our imagination and invites us to think bigger.
In Bologna, an innovative project called the Civic Imagination Office serves as a space to research, communicate, and co-create urban transformations. Rob Hopkins suggests more cities should follow Bologna’s lead and roll out imagination strategies whereby we foster environments that inspire ideas and imagination. To cultivate reflective environments, we need to rethink the following:
- Recognizing that the imagination requires space and freedom. Our current culture rewards discipline, long working hours, and constant production. We should allow ourselves downtime for curiosity and daydreaming.
- Creating inspiring places that stimulate a sense of beauty and connection, encouraging people to do things differently. To allow the imagination to flow, we need to create places that are accessible and welcoming, this could take the form of urban farms, cooperative housing and community gardens.
- Cultivating a desire for a low carbon future by communicating the message through cultural mediums such as art, music, and storytelling.
We live in a system that has locked us into a false sense of inevitability. We need to break the inherited package of ideas and work collectively to dream of alternative futures. Bringing this into fruition will require diverse contributions, practices, and strategies. With interconnected movements, we can channel change and transform interlocking systems of oppression to instead build systems of care and acceptance.
Acts of radical imagination#
Jessica Horn discussed the theme of embodiment, highlighting how factors such as stress and anxiety are embodied experiences that affects our ability to imagine, on the flip side, our bodies are also a space for resistance. An example of tremendous imagination is the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) in South Africa. The grassroots movement launched during the HIV and Aids crisis, when lifesaving medication was expensive and inaccessible to economically marginalized South Africans. The founders of TAC had little prior understanding of public health or its politics but became fully literate in the science and law of antiretroviral medicine to demand change, and in turn succeeded in changing international patent law to make medication accessible through the public health system. TAC has been recognised as one of the most effective social movements in post-apartheid South Africa. An incredible intervention brought into fruition by people resisting through their bodies.
Highlighting another example of radical imagination, Jay Jordan and Isa Frémeaux joined the session from ZAD (zone à défendre), a territory in Western France that has been occupied since 2009 and is part of a 50-year struggle against the building of an international airport on the land. To defend the territory, diverse methods of resistance have been utilised and for the past six years the inhabitants of ZAD have lived in a self-organized community, without the state or the police. Revolutionary change consists of two strands of DNA, a double helix of resistance and construction intertwined together. ZAD is an extraordinary demonstration of not only imagining a postcard for the future, but actually living it. People within ZAD have been developing a long-term vision of building Commons, a space to collectively manage resources whilst understanding the land and living cohesively together. In terms of rekindling the imagination, there is enormous inspiration in the capacity to be able to envisage what your collective life is going to be and then constructing the reality.
The difficulties that face us in contemporary times pertaining climate change, economic austerity and separation are symptomatic of fundamental problems within our capitalist structure. The shell of capitalism has cracked and humanity can no longer continue on this trajectory without dire consequences for all inhabitants on our planet. Freedom is not a destination, it’s a constant practice. We must make our own freedom by cutting holes in the fabric of our reality and collectively forging a new path. By dismantling binaries such as human/nonhuman, culture/nature, self/other and harnessing our imaginations, we can work together to reclaim our future.
Gibson, H, Venakateswar, S (2015) Anthropological Engagement with the Anthropocene. Environment and Society. Advances in Research. Berghahn Books.
Heywood, M (2009). South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign: Combining Law and Social Mobilization to Realize the Right to Health, Journal of Human Rights Practice.
Hopkins, R (2019) Bologna, the city with a ‘Civic Imagination Office’. Resilience [online]. Accessed 16.04.22. Available at: https://www.resilience.org/stories/2019-03-07/bologna-the-city-with-a-civic-imagination-office/
Robinson, N (2017) Imagining the end. Current Affairs [online]. Accessed 16.04.22. Available at: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2017/05/imagining-the-end
Zad. What is the ZAD. [online]. Accessed 19.04.22. Available at: https://zadforever.blog/about/