Democracy and Radical Imagination: Castoriadis Revisited

May 25, 2023 - May 26, 2023
Department of Political Science, University of Vienna

Universitätsstraße 7
Vienna 1010

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities

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  • European Research Council


University of Vienna

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That democracy is in crisis is a truism today. In recent years, many commentators have identified the disintegration of truth and facts as the core threat to democratic societies, and accordingly call for restoring our political sense of reality. In turn, this workshop proceeds from the conviction that we face at least as severe a crisis of our political sense of possibility: a crisis of political imagination. It has become increasingly difficult to even imagine democratic politics and democratic futurity differently, that is, significantly departing from the status quo of the minimal model of present, liberal western democracy. The infamous TINA dictum emblematically attests to the outright rejection of political creativity under the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism. While democratic creativity withers away, progressive change seems to be outsourced to the field of technology, in terms of planned and anticipable ‘innovation’. This is all the more fatal in times of ecological disaster, where democratic political action is increasingly challenged by calls for establishing ‘authoritarian environmentalism’, often accompanied with technocratic ideas of climate engineering.

To explore paths for restoring and enlivening political imagination and our political sense of possibility, it seems apt to (re)turn to the work of Cornelius Castoriadis. Nearly half a century after the publication of his magnum opus The Imaginary Institution of Society (1975), it is not only time to take stock and evaluate the relevance and productivity of his political philosophy for present discussions. Rather, with his distinctive account of democracy as autonomous self-institution and his notion of radical imagination at the heart of the political, Castoriadis’s thought may deliver conceptual tools and theoretical frameworks that help foster new, radical democratic imaginaries. Against this background, the workshop proposes to revisit the work of Castoriadis in order to explore how, to what extent, and in which respects it can be utilized or updated for tackling the crisis of imagination. To this end, the workshop convenes interdisciplinary participants from philosophy, political science, and sociology, rallying around the main question of whether Castoriadis’s thinking allows us to establish a notion of democratic imagination and/or democratic imaginaries fit for the challenges of the present.

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