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Elliott, A. (2002). The Social Imaginary: A Critical Assessment of Castoriadis's Psychoanalytic Social Theory. Am. Imago, 59(2):141-170.

(2002). American Imago, 59(2):141-170

The Social Imaginary: A Critical Assessment of Castoriadis's Psychoanalytic Social Theory

Anthony Elliott

In universities around the world, interdisciplinary study is all the rage. Postmodernism, postcolonialism, new political economy, cultural and media studies: such theories are making increasing inroads into sociology, political science, history, and other fields across the social sciences and humanities. To their supporters, these discourses are valuable precisely because they disrupt traditional disciplinary boundaries. Yet it is sometimes hard not to feel that such studies are a pseudointellectual cover for avoiding the truly pressing issues of our times. Looming ecological devastation, the depoliticization of public life, the privatization of public resources: many of the new discourses have little or nothing to say about such matters.

Not all sophisticated confrontations with the current age, however, are resolutely apolitical. The appearance of Cornelius Castoriadis's books, World in Fragments (1997) and The Castoriadis Reader (Curtis 1997), as well as the French publication of Figures du pensable (1999a) and Sur le Politique de Platon (1999b), alters, significantly and dazzlingly, the status of multidisciplinary research. Alongside Jürgen Habermas or Anthony Giddens, Pierre Bourdieu or Julia Kristeva, Castoriadis deserves to be counted as one of the most brilliant theorists of the relations between the individual and society to have emerged in postwar Europe. His books induce a deeper appreciation of the tasks faced by social scientists in recognizing the imaginative and creative capacities of human beings in their dealings with the world.

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