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The Radical Imagination

The Radical Imagination

Doctor Alex Khasnabish | Max Haiven


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The idea of the imagination is as evocative as it is elusive. Not only does the imagination allow us to project ourselves beyond our own immediate space and time, it also allows us to envision the future, as individuals and as collectives. The radical imagination, then, is that spark of difference, desire and discontent that can be fanned into the flames of social change. Yet what precisely is the imagination and what might make it ‘radical’? How can it be fostered and cultivated? How can it be studied and what are the possibilities and risks of doing so? This book seeks to answer these questions at a crucial time. As we enter into a new cycle of struggles marked by a worldwide crisis of social reproduction, scholar-activists Max Haiven and Alex Khasnabish explore the processes and possibilities for cultivating the radical imagination in dark times. A lively and crucial intervention in radical politics, social research and social change, and the collective visions and cultures that inspire them.
Max Haiven is an assistant professor in the Division of Art History and Critical Studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and co-director of the Radical Imagination Project ( He is author of Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power: Capitalism, Creativity and the Commons (Zed Books, 2014) and Cultures of Financialization: Fictitious Capital in Popular Culture and Everyday Life. More information can be found at Alex Khasnabish is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology/Anthropology at Mount Saint Vincent University and co-director of the Radical Imagination Project ( He is the author of Zapatistas: Rebellion from the Grassroots to the Global (Zed Books, 2010) and Zapatismo beyond Borders, and co-editor (with Jeffrey Juris) of Insurgent Encounters: Transnational Activism, Ethnography, and the Political. More information can be found at
'I deserted the academy for activism over ten years ago, but this book reminds me that there are some scholars who really do radicalize their research processes so that the university once again becomes a tool of post-capitalist struggle rather than a feather in the neoliberal crown. A timely reminder for scholars to get their hands dirty, immerse themselves in radical movements and write for change rather than academic careers.' John Jordan, artist, activist and co-founder of the direct action protest movement Reclaim the Streets. 'For Haiven and Khasnabish the "Radical Imagination" is the most important tool of resistance to neoliberal capitalism. Drawing on a breathtaking range of examples, they urge us to learn from and understand the knowledge produced within radical political movements. This impressive book is a must-read for those committed to radical social change and concerned with producing alternate worlds.' Imogen Tyler, senior lecturer of sociology, Lancaster University and author of Revolting Subjects 'The Radical Imagination offers astute insights into the ways capitalism and crisis constrain our social and political imaginaries. This is a compelling book, highly readable and full of possibility. A welcome contribution to the kinds of engaged research needed right now.' Emma Dowling, senior lecturer in sociology, Middlesex University 'Theoretically sophisticated and politically grounded, The Radical Imagination challenges us to think beyond the limits of both contemporary social movement organizing and scholarship.' Lesley Wood, assistant professor of sociology, York University 'This book is an important and thought-provoking tool for activists and scholars. It is a sort of dialogical manual, bringing the reader into a conversation on what the radical imagination is and can be. While questioning, the authors suggest alternative ways of thinking about important issues, such as the meaning of success, failure, research and methodology - all from below, and grounded in the thoughts and experiences of others involved in movements.' Marina Sitrin, author of They Can't Represent Us! and Everyday Revolutions 'The Radical Imagination is a fantastic resource for both social movements and the scholars who study them. It insists that social transformation requires research and that the process of research should itself be transformative. It crackles with new ideas and innovative approaches while asking that most important of questions: what would it mean for social movements to win?' Keir Milburn, lecturer in political economy and organisation, University of Leicester, and co-author of Moments of Excess: Movements, Protests and Everyday Life

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
About the authors ii
Title Page iii
Copyright iv
Contents v
Acknowledgements vii
Introduction | The importance of the radical imagination in dark times 1
What is the radical imagination? 2
Social movements in the age of austerity 8
Research as enclosure and as commons 12
Learning from failure 17
Outline and preliminaries 20
Part one | Solidarity research 27
One | The methods of movements: academic crisis and activist strategy 29
Crisis 31
Research, enclosure and academic capital 34
Social movement scholarship and the politics of knowledge production 41
Social movements, stories and ethnography 48
The vocation of research 55
Convoking the radical imagination and the politics of prefiguration 61
Amidst the crisis maelstrom: research and the university 64
Two | Convoking the radical imagination 67
Context and practice: the Radical Imagination Project in Halifax 68
Diagram of the Radical Imagination Project 73
Taking stock 74
Community responses 77
Convocation and the research horizon 84
Part two | Dwelling in the hiatus 89
Three | The crisis of reproduction 91
Crisis theory and social reproduction 97
Socializing the crisis 106
The death and afterlife of the middle class 112
The crisis of movement reproduction 117
Four | Reimagining success and failure 122
The Greimas square of success and failure 124
Social movements and the hiatus between (not-)success and (not-)failure 125
The expanded square of social movements 126
Solidarity research: dwelling in the hiatus 133
The expanded movement research square 134
Whither failurism? 137
Radical therapy 139
Conclusion: beyond the middle-class imaginary 143
Part three | Making space, making time 147
Five | The life and times of radical movements 149
The co-optation of radicalism in the anglophone North Atlantic 155
The rise and fall of the New Left 165
The times of movement reproduction 173
Six | The temporalities of oppression 179
The making of time 190
Reproducing otherwise: beyond oppression and exploitation 198
Part four | The methods of movements 207
Seven | Imagination, strategy and tactics 209
From ontology to epistemology to methods to ethics 211
Radicalizing the research imagination 216
The research imagination 217
The expanded model of the research imagination 219
Opening time for the imagination 223
From imagination to strategy to tactics (and back) 225
The movement imagination 226
Occupy 233
Implications: ‘diversity of tactics’ as symptom 238
Eight | Towards a prefigurative methodology 243
References 256
Index 267