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Social Imaginaries

Volume 3, Issue 2, Autumn 2017

Approaches to Religion

Roger Savage
Pages 191-211
DOI: 10.5840/si20173222

Emancipatory Alternatives, Sites of Resistance
Social Subversion, Political Contestation, and Dystopic Imaginaries

Social opposition to instituted policies and practices marks the sites of resistance that populate the contemporary political landscape. Animated by the prospects of a better and more just world, the emancipatory ambitions of social and political movements bring to the fore discrepancies between ideologically congealed power relations and habits of thought and the subversive function of utopian expectations. Paul Ricoeur reminds us that our participation in society is invariably punctuated by our experiences of reality’s noncongruence with imaginative alternatives we can project and upon which we can act. After explaining how literary fictions open spaces for reworking reality, I set out the imagination’s analogous power on the political plane. The struggles with which social and political movements are engaged seek to transform established conventions. Hence, like literary works, these movements aim at refashioning the existing order of reality from within. Protest movements attest to how struggles for recognition combat systemic injustices by holding out the prospect of a different and better future. Consequently, these movements exemplify the power that springs from individuals acting in consort, as evidenced by recent protests against the Trump administration. Conversely, violence destroys power. In view of the way that future expectations animate the force of the present, I therefore argue that dystopic representations of authoritarian regimes in Margret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984 fulfill a critical, social function as apocalyptic harbingers of political corruption and deceit. As such, these dystopian novels intensify the force that the present has as a time of crisis and decision.

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