Social Imaginaries

Volume 3, Issue 1, Spring 2017

George H. Taylor
Pages 41-60

Delineating Ricoeur’s Concept of Utopia

This article elaborates the continuing significance of Ricoeur’s development of utopia. Ricoeur develops two not necessarily exclusive aspects of the utopia in its positive sense. First, it acts as an imaginative variation on existing reality, and second, it can act to ‘shatter’ and hence recast existing reality. While Ricoeur himself did not tend to distinguish rigorously between these two senses of the utopia, the article seeks to provide that delineation. Imaginative variation opens the sphere of human possibility but remains hypothetical, while the utopia as that which shatters can introduce a new reality into social existence. In the utopia that shatters, the social imagination can be constitutive of social life. The article situates Ricoeur’s discussion of utopia in his Lectures on Ideology and Utopia in relation to other relevant texts in his corpus, principally The Rule of Metaphor and the forthcoming Lectures on Imagination. The argument locates Ricoeur’s treatment of utopia within the broader field of his work on the symbolic structure of action and social imagination.