I am fascinated by how we both image ourselves and imagine ourselves. The connection between them is significant and the implications are even more so.

In March I wrote about how conceptions of a ‘people’ and a ‘nation’ have come through historic transitions in the past 2 centuries. More recent authors extend that concern beyond just text to the escalated pervasiveness of electronic media.  Appiah frames it this way:

The worldwide web of information – radio, television, telephones, the Internet – means not only that we can affect lives everywhere but that we can learn about life anywhere, too. Each person you know about and can affect is someone to whom you have responsibilities: to say this is to just to affirm the very idea of morality. The challenge, then, is to take minds and hearts formed over long millennia of living in local troops and equip them with ideas and institutions that will allow us to live together as the global tribe we have become.[1]

This radical re-formation of belonging, obligation and security holds major opportunities as well as obstacles to conceptualizing social identity and participating in imagine community for the 21st century globalized existence. [2] Arjun Appadurai pins media and migration as the two interconnected (and similar) effects that work on “the imagination as a constitutive feature of modern subjectivity” because “they offer new resources and new disciplines for the constructed imagined selves and imagined worlds.” [3]

The rate of change provides a rupture – not merely a transition but an exponential increase in connectivity and complexity.complexity

The power of this new media, according to Appadurai, is not only as a direct source “of new images and scenarios for life possibilities” but in that fact that “imagination has now acquired a singular new power in social life.”[4] Think back to Taylor’s earlier assertion that those in previous centuries not only didn’t have the ability to conceptualize themselves with a life outside of immediate connections but that it probably would have never even dawned them to try.

The capacity to conceptualize or imagine oneself in a radically different place, group or life scenario has not only become possible but it the primary realm of constructing an imaginary.

This shift is facilitated by media technology and is “one of the principle shifts in the global cultural order”. [5]  

Technology is radically changing the way that we conceptualize (imagine) everything from identity, belonging and who we are connected to as well as in what way that happens.

In the next 3 posts I begin to flesh out what this change looks like.


[1] Appiah, Cosmopolitanism, xiii.

[2] It is worth noting that a walk down a large avenue in a major city would “have within sight more human beings that most of those prehistoric hunter-gatherers saw in a lifetime.” Even Greece at its heyday or Rome at its peak would have paled in comparison. Ibid., xii.

[3] Appadurai, Modernity At Large, 3.

[4] Ibid., 53.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 115.

[7] Ibid., 117.

[8] A similar case might be made for women who have been disgruntled based on the patriarchal remnants still influencing them and their sisters even though they are aware that they are 51% of the population as a whole. A great deal is made out of the number ‘51’ in juxtaposition to matters of access, equality and compensation. Much is made of that number. What if, one might ask, if that number was changed. Would the case be harder to make? What if only 42% of the population was women? Or what if it turned out that an error had been made and actually 64% of the population was women. Would that make the current inequalities and unjust practices more grotesque?