It goes without saying

Imagination, inarticulacy, and materiality in political culture

Authored by: Chandra Mukerji

Routledge Handbook of Cultural Sociology

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138288621
eBook ISBN: 9781315267784
Adobe ISBN:


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Why is C. Wright Mill so interested in cultural imagination as a means of transcending everyday political oppression? He sees sociological imagination as a tool for freeing thought from colonization by elites, suggesting a particular power of imagination in politics. What is it? I argue that discursive or ideological politics works differently than cultural imaginaries. Silent or extra-linguistic forms like art, architecture, and engineering projects create impressions of power relations that people absorb without debate. These objects do not have clear meanings, but they colonize imagination, giving people no basis for challenging or changing the status quo. I show how this works through a historical example: the work of the French Royal Academy of Architecture in 1697. The academicians were charged with debating classical aesthetics and their appropriation in French architecture, but they found discourse a limited means of turning classical style into a tool of French politics. They turned to mathematics, namely proportion, to codify what made classical architecture beautiful. But even this had limited effects. It was the impression of great works on people that mattered, and this could not be codified. The point was to equate France to Rome to suggest an imperial future for the kingdom.

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