CLARK, John. A Social Ecology. 06. An Ecology of the Imagination

MARX, Karl (1818-1883)Economy. ValuePhilosophy. ImaginationNature. Social ecologyCLARK, John P. (New Orleans, USA. 21/6/1945 - )

1. The Social and the Ecological
2. A Dialectical Holism
3. No Nature
4. The Ecological Self
5. A Social Ecology of Value

An Ecology of the Imagination

If a social ecology is to contribute to radical ecological social transformation, it must address theoretically all the significant institutional dimensions of society. It must take into account the fact that every social institution contains organizational, ideological, and imaginary aspects (moments that can only be separated from one another for purposes of theoretical analysis). An economic institution, for example, includes a mode of organizing persons and groups, their activities and practices, and of utilizing material means for economic ends. It also includes a mode of discourse, and a system of ideas by which it understands itself and seeks to legitimate its ends and activities. Finally, it includes a mode of self-representation and self-expression by which it symbolizes itself and imagines itself. The social imaginary is part of this third sphere, and consists of the system of socially-shared images by which the society represents itself to itself.
One essential task of a social ecology is to contribute to the creation of an ecological imaginary, an endeavor that presupposes an awareness of our own standpoint within the dialectical movement of the social world. A social ecology of the imagination therefore undertakes the most concrete and experiential investigation of the existing imaginary. To the extent that this has been done, it has been found that we live in an epoch that is defined above all by the dominant economistic institutions. This dominance is exercised through all the major institutional spheres : economistic forms of social organization, economistic ideology, and an economistic imaginary. But the dominant economism is far from simple and monolithic. Most significantly, it is divided into two essential moments which interact in complex and socially efficacious ways.
These two essential moments, productionism and consumptionism, are inseparable and mutually interdependent. As Marx pointed out long ago in the classical dialectical inquiry on this subject, «production, distribution, exchange and consumption . . . all form the members of a totality, distinctions within a unity.» [1] While Marx’s analysis was profoundly shaped by the productionist era in which he lived, all subsequent inquiry is a continuation of the dialectical project that he suggests in this passage. A social ecology ignores none of the moments Marx identifies, but rather looks at distribution and exchange as mediating terms between production and consumption.
But it will focus on the contemporary world as the scene of a strange dialectic between abstract, systemic rationality and social and ecological irrationality. The economistic society drives relentlessly toward absolute rationality in the exploitation of natural and human resources, in the pursuit of efficiency of production, in the development of technics, in the control of markets through research, and in the manipulation of behavior through marketing. At the same time, it rushes toward complete irrationality in the generation of infinite desire, in the colonization of the psyche with commodified images, in the transformation of the human and natural world into a system of objects of consumption, and most ultimately and materially, in undermining the ecological basis for its own existence. Whatever the shortcomings of Marx as economist and political theorist, he is unsurpassed as a prophet insofar as he revealed that the fundamental irrationality of economistic society is in its spirituality—the fetishism of commodities.

7. An Ecological Imaginary
8. Freedom and Domination
9. Eco-Communitarian Politics
10. Social Eco-nomics
11. The New Leviathan
12. The Future of Social Ecology

[1Karl Marx, Grundrisse : Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (New York : Vintage Books, 1973), p. 99.