Imagination, from Futures to Failures

Ioana Sendroiu, University of Hong Kong

This paper centers on politicians in Romania and France who came to power at the end of World War Two, but failed to remain in power despite being broadly popular. Both Communists in France and anti-Communist politicians in Romania failed to adjust to the massive changes in their contexts engendered by the beginning of the Cold War. In order to explain these unexpected outcomes, I argue that in both places, political leaders of very different ideologies were involved in failures of imagination: they failed to adjust their expectations and behaviours to the new political realities emerging in their countries, largely because they misunderstood these new contexts. Studying failures of imagination in historical perspective thus allows for an analysis of individuals’ intent and goals — and more importantly, the gap between action goals and their consequences. And upon seeing these gaps — these failures of imagination — we can elaborate a model of culture in action that makes space for such failure. I thus elaborate a sociological understanding of imagination, conceptualized as a sort of read an individual holds of her context which is, especially in moments of uncertainty, imprecise and therefore imaginary. Based on this imagination, on this read of a context, we make behavioral choices and take action. But because uncertainty can render context interpretation incomplete or incorrect, this action choice can be wrong, failing to lead to the desired outcome. Taken together, we gain a conceptual model of how uncertainty affects the ways in which individuals make sense of, and manage their cultural repertoires, and in turn, how they take action.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 37. Culture, Knowledge & Politics