Volume 2, Issue 1, Spring 2016
Shifting Imaginaries in the War on Terror
The Rise and Fall of the Ticking Bomb Torturer
Th is analysis employs the concept of social imaginary to account for recent shifts in the imagination, discourse and practice of torture. It is motivated by a broader ambition to highlight the importance of the imaginary vis-a-vis the symbolic, which still dominates theoretical debates in cultural sociology. Culture does not only consist of codes and symbols, but also encompasses collectively shared imaginary significations. Only by paying tribute to the imaginary dimension of culture, we are able to understand how codes and symbols work. The importance of the social imaginary will be demonstrated through an analysis of the impact of 9/11 and the Abu Ghraib scandal on the American torture discourse. The terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers did not bring up new arguments in favor of torture, but changed the social imaginary by turning the so-called ‘ticking bomb scenario’ from a mere thought experiment into a real possibility. The publicized abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison had an opposite effect: The infamous photographs changed the imagination of torture which in turn strengthened its critics.