Collective Dreams

Collective Dreams: Political Imagination and Community

Keally D. McBride
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Collective Dreams
    Book Description:

    How do we go about imagining different and better worlds for ourselves? Collective Dreams looks at ideals of community, frequently embraced as the basis for reform across the political spectrum, as the predominant form of political imagination in America today. Examining how these ideals circulate without having much real impact on social change provides an opportunity to explore the difficulties of practicing critical theory in a capitalist society. Different chapters investigate how ideals of community intersect with conceptions of self and identity, family, the public sphere and civil society, and the state, situating community at the core of the most contested political and social arenas of our time. Ideals of community also influence how we evaluate, choose, and build the spaces in which we live, as the author’s investigations of Celebration, Florida, and of West Philadelphia show.Following in the tradition of Walter Benjamin, Keally McBride reveals how consumer culture affects our collective experience of community as well as our ability to imagine alternative political and social orders. Taking ideals of community as a case study, Collective Dreams also explores the structure and function of political imagination to answer the following questions: What do these oppositional ideals reveal about our current political and social experiences? How is the way we imagine alternative communities nonetheless influenced by capitalism, liberalism, and individualism? How can these ideals of community be used more effectively to create social change?

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05909-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-8)

    This is a book about imagining a better world. While I was growing up, I moved every year. I was a spectator of the world around me, but everyone else looked as though he or she were a participant. I assumed that if only I was one of them, I would feel at home, I would belong. Like me, many people lament the fact that they have never felt part of a “real community.” Some people forget about this longing, others spend a lot of energy trying to figure out how, or where, they might feel at home in the...

    (pp. 9-22)

    The term “community” has a paradoxical presence in our everyday discourse. While many people lament not being part of a “real community,” they nonetheless use the word repeatedly to refer to groups. The problem became clearer to me after reading Hervé Varenne’s study of Appleton, Wisconsin, titledAmericans Together(1977). This French scholar began his sociological analysis by regretfully reporting that he was not able to find a “real community” in Appleton—but then went on to describe the sociological groups that he studied as “communities” anyway. Clearly the word “community” carries both normative and descriptive weight. Curiously, the ideals...

  6. 2 A ROOM FULL OF MIRRORS: Community and the Promise of Identity
    (pp. 23-42)

    Classical liberalism took individual identity as a given: first there were individuals, then these individuals formed society. There have been critics of this claim for as long as it has been made. For example, Rousseau described how the individual fundamentally changes with the establishment of society. Identity, originally a function of independence and an inner sense of self (amour soi), becomes a function of artifice and the presentation of self to others (amour propre). To some extent, this original sense of self is no longer recoverable. Rousseau cautions, “Let us therefore take care not to confuse savage man with the...

  7. 3 HABITS OF THE HEARTH: Families and Politics in Theory and Practice
    (pp. 43-58)

    In “The Difficulty of Imagining Others” Elaine Scarry (1999) builds upon the supposition that we simply cannot imagine others in a way that provides for morality, equality, and respect. To rectify this problem, she suggests that we employ institutions to aid our failed imaginations. While she does not elaborate specifics, working from her basic observation I can offer some concrete examples of how institutions may help to create the effects of recognition, without having to rely solely upon the individual imagination. For example, what if the United States had an asylum law opening our borders to all refugees from areas...

  8. 4 CITIZENS WITHOUT STATES? Bringing Community into Institutions
    (pp. 59-84)

    The state has always been viewed with a certain amount of distrust in the United States. Even with its tentacles firmly bound by separation of powers, popular election, federalism, and bureaucratic process, it is a commonplace belief that the state is an interfering evil only slightly less dangerous than the alternative—anarchy. Public opinion polls routinely demonstrate that Americans distrust their government, even as they regard it as an ineffective, distant mechanism grinding away taxpayer money.

    The state is equally out of favor in contemporary political theory. One could trace this aversion to the minimalist approach to governance advocated by...

    (pp. 85-110)

    Dorothy Smith has written about the interchange between text and “reality” or, rather, that which is “outside-the-text” (1999). She is critical of poststructuralist theory, claiming that it has no referent outside of itself. Without the dynamic relationship between theory and the world, theory becomes meaningless, neither guiding nor inspiring change. Smith locates the problem within the theory: poststructuralist thought creates “subject positions” instead of people who act; discourses of power seem given and unaffected by our participation. We do not so much create webs of power as live amongst them. Smith offers a corrective: a proper theory exists in dynamic...

  10. 6 UTOPIAN VISION AS COMMODITY FETISH: Social Imagineering in Postmodern Capitalism
    (pp. 111-120)

    The tradition established by Tönnies inCommunity and Societyremains the dominant mode of interpreting community. As this tradition would have it, society is alienating, individualistic, bureaucratic, impersonal, economic, and political. Community, in contrast, is none of these things. As I have established in this book, this idea still maintains a remarkable hold over most theories of community. For that reason, community, when employed as the central tool of social theorizing, occludes economic and political issues, while at the same time importing a natural or noncoercive view of sociality. It is no wonder that community seems to be the answer...

    (pp. 121-140)

    How is a community built? What are the ingredients that seem to make it work? While much of the discussion thus far has been about how we imagine communities, it is important to conclude with some observations about how imagination becomes manifest in building and living in communities as well. The study of Celebration, Florida, gave an example of imagineering at work with a blank canvas; comparing this new urbanist construct and the transformation of a classical suburban development in West Philadelphia provides some surprising insights. Although the two neighborhoods are different in many ways, there are instructive similarities between...

    (pp. 141-150)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 151-154)