Charles Taylor's Social Imaginary

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Why do people act and perceive the way they do? This can be explained by Charles Taylor’s social imaginary. There are underlying thoughts and rules in society that shape the way people think. Sometimes topics such as sexuality, which most people view only in one way, may not be so clear after all. The social imaginary is what enables the practices of a society. This is done though making sense of ideas and expectations. It is “how they [people] fit together with others, how things go on between them and their fellows, the expectations that are normally met, and the deeper normative notions and images that underlie these expectations” (Taylor pg.23). Charles Taylor seems to focus on how people envision their social settings. Our social imaginary is “shared by large groups of people,” and “is that common understanding that makes possible common practices and a widely shared sense of legitimacy” (Taylor pg.23). In other words, the social imaginary is what makes common practices and ideals socially acceptable. Without it, no one would know how to interact with others. It is like a complex, unsaid law, given to people that allows them to carry out their social lives. Taylor relates his idea to government elections where he explains, “Part of the background understanding that makes sense of our act of voting for each one of us is our awareness of the whole action… this kind of macrodecision, in other words, has to meet certain norms if it is to be what it is meant to be” (Taylor pg. 24). However, only relevant backgrounds can apply to an act or scenario for it to make sense. It is also explained that understanding different practices, makes them possible. While at the same time, the practice itself is what carries the understanding. These practices are implicit in society; people know how to act in different situations, and with whom, without being told. A social imaginary has always been in existence, even before humans started theorizing about it.

Taylor has explained three different types of social imaginary: explicit, symbolic, and tacit. The explicit level of the social imaginary is the level that anyone can overtly talk about, it is obvious. Take a stop sign, for instance, this is something that everyone can see and talk about. When people see a stop sign it is a known rule to come to a complete stop. This is an example of the explicit social imaginary. The tacit dimension consists of the implied rules of the social imaginary. If a teacher came into class and started baking a cake, this would not be normal. Students would perceive the teacher in a confused way, as this is not something a teacher should be doing in class. The idea that a teacher is supposed to teach and not bake is one of the unsaid rules of the tacit social imaginary. Symbolic social imaginary is the level that involves both explicit and tacit traits. For example, blue is for boys and pink is for girls. These are just colors; however they are recognized symbolically as things for girls or things for boys.

Anne Fausto-Sterling is someone who does not see sex as clearly black and white. She believes there is more than just male and female sexes, and that this gray area should not be looked down upon. In her article, “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough,” she describes the five sexes in which she has categorized these people who do not fall under male or female. The medical language uses the term “intersex” to group all intersexual bodies. However, Fausto-Sterling breaks this group down into three groups. Hermaphrodites, or herms, “possess one testis and one ovary (the sperm and egg-producing vessels, or gonads)” (Fausto-Serling pg34). Herms can technically become pregnant and also impregnate someone else. “Male pseudohermaphrodites (the “merms”), have testes and some aspects of the female genitalia but no ovaries” (Fausto-Sterling pg34). Merms are not able to become pregnant. “Female pseudohermaphrodites...
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