What is the collective imagination?

He Collective imagination Or collective imagination is a set of symbols, customs or memories that have a specific and common meaning for all the people who are part of a community.

The collective imagination examines the nature of the creative spirit of societies that delight in invention. It also analyzes how the cultural nuclei of creative societies energize and encourage economic, social and political systems.

What is the collective imagination?

The collective imaginary, as its name indicates"collective", but also part of the individual, as expressed by Winston Churchill in 1909 when he indicated that"it is not possible to draw a hard and fast line between individualism and The collectivism.

The nature of man is dual nature. The character of the organization of human society is dual. For some purposes he must be collectivist, for others he is, and he will remain forever remains, an individualist."

The idea of ​​wit is ancient, though not so old. It precedes the age of the Romantics, but after the Greeks, the Romans and the rise of Christianity. It is neoclassical in spirit, and is considered a mechanism of the XVI, XVII and XVIII centuries. Therefore, the idea of ​​creativity as we understand it now owes something tacitly to all of them: the old, the Christian, the neoclassical and the romantic.

With the creation and expansion of the media, this collective imaginary now shares its symbolic heritage with other communities. With these changes a new term has been created called"global village"that corresponds to the union of all the communities in one.

Thus, the individual and society are committed to each other, each is translatable in the other. Although the individual carries within himself thoughts, feelings and experiences, he also carries those of others, that is, those of society.

Composition of the collective imagination

According to Francesco Varanini (2012), there are two forms of collective imagination: the first is the imagination that explores the unknown and the second the imagination that explains it, the explicit imagination.

The collective imaginary is composed by:

1- Imagination

Imagination can be defined as the capacity of the mind that allows the creation and representation of objects. Imagination allows us to see around to see what is not there.

In the collective imagination, imagination is an incongruent faculty, individual and social at the same time, since it is not known and can not be said exactly where the individual imagination ends and where the collective imagination begins.

According to Etienne Wenger (1998), the creative character of the imagination is anchored in social interactions and communal experiences. Imagination in this sense is not only the production of personal fantasies, since far from an individual withdrawal from reality, it is a mode of belonging that always involves the social world to extend the reach of reality and identity.

Through imagination, each can be located in the world and in history and include in their identities other meanings, other possibilities, other perspectives. It is through the imagination that the practices themselves are seen as continuous stories that reach the past, and it is through the imagination that new developments are conceived, alternatives are explored and possible future scenarios are offered.

2- Symbols

The term symbol is composed of two parts: the signifier (which belongs to concrete reality) and meaning (abstract representation that can be determined by a religion, a nation, a historical fact, etc.).

There are symbols known only by a city, state, country or there may be some known around the world.

The collective imaginary implies a symbolic communication: beliefs or myths, actions or rituals and sacred symbols or deities.

Cornelius Castoriadis (1975), talks about the power of symbols and imagination, and the philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis (1987), states that individuals and societies assimilate the world in imaginary and symbolic ways.

3- Concepts

It is an idea or notion, a conception of something made by the mind and expressed by words, allegories, comparisons or symbolic representations.

There are concepts that are universal, just as there are individual concepts that are considered more abstract because they can be somewhat subjective.

4- Memory

Memory is the ability to store and retrieve data or information. Memory is not imagination but these two are accomplices. Imagination does what the historian does. According to Kant, history is the past made present, and imagination is the fusion of past and present, present and future.

The memory can be individual or collective. In the case of the collective imagination, we work with data that can be expressed by a certain group of people and that have a common meaning.

5 Myths and Legends

For some, the list of the composition of the collective imagination ends in point 4. However, there are authors who add to this classification to the myths of societies.

A myth is considered to be a story that has a very deep meaning for a culture, where a divine explanation is usually presented that establishes a belief that passes through several generations, and which are in fact unlikely or can not be verified.

According to Varanini, myth is the collective imagination that explains, communicates and gives meaning to the shared experience of individuals. The more society lives through the transition, the myths are more important, and truly become, a vehicle of transformation. They emerge from the instinctive fear of change, and decide the interpretation of evolution in the environment, thus leading to transformation.

A legend is a very old story (or set of stories) that are told about an event or a famous person, but that is not always true. For example:"legend says that Queen Joaquina always took her boots to bed"; "The 1952 game is a baseball legend"; "The opera is based on an Icelandic legend".

Collective imaginary: present and future

According to various authors, through the collective imagination, the frontiers that separate people are being opened at the moment, so new periods of social creativity are about to emerge.

Social networks and the expansion of the media have in recent times unleashed the power of the collective imagination in ways that are still barely understood.

In the present the collective emerges without leaders, nor guides, nor of institutional structures. That is why, the collective imaginary opens the door to the possibility that everything can change and emerge into something new.


  1. The Collective Imagination: The Creative Spirit of Free Societies. Peter Murphy (2012).
  2. Media and Ritual. Johanna Sumiala (2013).
  3. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Etienne Wenger (1998).
  4. Projects and Complexity. Francesco Varanini, Walter Ginevri (2012).
  5. EdukaLife (2015).

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