The Imagined, the Imaginary and the Symbolic
by Maurice Godelier Translated by Nora Scott
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176 pages / January 2020 / 9781786637703
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January 2020 / 9781786637710

Exploring the close relationship between the real, the symbolic and imaginary

Lévi-Strauss held that “the real, the symbolic and the imaginary” are three separate orders. Maurice Godelier demonstrates the contrary: the real is not separate from the symbolic and the imaginary. Godelier’s book goes to the strategic heart of the social sciences, for to examine the nature and role of the imaginary and the symbolic is also to attempt to account for the basic components of all societies and ultimately of human existence. And these aspects in turn shape our social and personal identity.


“With his characteristic limpidity of thought and expression, Godelier explores major features of what makes us distinctive social beings: our capacity to imagine and inhabit other worlds beyond and within the ones we are living in. How the symbols we live by render plausible, even compulsory, the absurdities of our collective imagination; how what we imagine becomes imaginary in certain conditions, real in others; how the symbolic which binds collectives together becomes effective through the domination it exerts; how social life stabilizes imagined possibilities through play, art and religion. These basic questions receive here new and illuminating answers, which throw light on the most pressing issues of our time.”

“After ‘Marx,’ ‘Durkheim’ and ‘Weber,’ after the first fifty years of ethnographic and historical exploration, after Lévi-Strauss and the next fifty years of ethnographic and historical research, what might the ‘Frazer’ of our times write? Maurice Godelier’s gripping essay gives us an idea. Verging on a Jeremiad, drawing from predecessors near and far for a synthesis ‘in the grand style,’ The Imagined, the Imaginary and the Symbolic probes our current state of learning. In so doing it sets the conditions for posing new questions for the next generations struggling not only to know the others and the pasts but to create societies for the future. The grand synthesizer, Godelier has given us another gift for the times.”

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