From dreams to inspiration or prophecy, people use their imagination to anticipate the unexpected, attend to their anxieties and plan the future. This panel invites ethnographies of the imagination that consider its psychological underpinnings while attending to its social and material formations.
Recent years have witnessed a rediscovery of the imagination in social sciences with an emphasis on social imagination as a capacity of societies to conceive of themselves, a shared horizon of meanings and moral norms. This attempt to account for imagined communities and shared meanings in terms of social/moral/political imagination stretched the concept far from its cognitive and material underpinnings. In parallel, developmental psychologists started to reclaim imagination as a fundamental process in human ontogeny, a concrete cognitive capacity involved in almost everything from basic perception to inferential mechanisms and the conception of alternative possibilities. The two approaches seem hardly reconcilable, basically reinforcing the collectivist vs. mentalist perspectives on imagination. And yet to understand imagination one has to acknowledge the interplay of cognitive and cultural processes in its formation and its embeddedness in specific socio-cultural contexts. This pressing challenge demands a new working framework sufficiently broad in scope and method to transcend this conceptual and empirical divide. How can one move from specialized cognitive processes to human individuation and lived social reality? What are the social and material forms through which imaginative capacities are trained and effected, thus making imagination ethnographically available? Can imagination account for individual agency and creativity within broader socio-historical and developmental processes? We invite participants to reflect on these issues in their ethnographies, examining the work of the imagination in the ways people explore different temporalities, consider various scenarios, handle uncertainties and contemplate the impossible.