What is the Radical Imagination?
Consider the two quotes below:
“Normally, when you challenge the conventional wisdom — that the current economic and political system
is the only possible one — the first reaction you are likely to get is a demand for a detailed architectural
blueprint of how an alternative system would work, down to the nature of its financial instruments, energy
supplies, and policies of sewer maintenance. Next, you are likely to be asked for a detailed program of how
this system will be brought into existence. Historically, this is ridiculous. When has social change ever
happened according to someone’s blueprint? It’s not as if a small circle of visionaries in Renaissance Florence
conceived of something they called ‘capitalism,’ figured out the details of how the stock exchange and
factories would someday work, and then put in place a program to bring their visions into reality. In fact, the
idea is so absurd we might well ask ourselves how it ever occurred to us to imagine this is how change
happens to begin.”
– David Graeber
“On the surface level, the radical imagination is the ability to imagine the world, life and social institutions
not as they are but as they might otherwise be…But the radical imagination is not just about dreaming of
different futures. Its about bringing those possible futures ‘back’ to work on the present, to inspire action
and new forms of solidarity today. Likewise, the radical imagination is about drawing on the past, telling
different stories about how the world came to be the way it is, and remembering the power and importance
of past struggles…Without the radical imagination, we are left only with the residual dreams of the powerful,
and for the vast majority they are not experienced as dreams but as nightmares of insecurity, precarity,
violence and hopelessness. Without the radical imagination, we are lost.”
– Excerpt from The Radical Imagination (2014)
by Alex Kobayashi and Max Haiven
For many, it is a difficult task to imagine a future that differs from the present. Having yet to experience the
future, our visions of the future are shaped by the present, our understanding of the past and by our dreams
and fears. From literature to film, cultural depictions of the future are saturated by visions dominated by our
fears of the future. Examples of these include: Blade Runner, 1984, The Hunger Games, Elysium, and more…
Now, as Graeber argues, it is a much more difficult task to try and think about what a more just and
egalitarian society looks like. And as he notes, the challenges to thinking through what
exactly a better world looks like is often used to dismiss efforts at advancing social justice.
Despite what Graeber sees as the absurdity of developing a blueprint for social change, movements for social
justice are always engaged in imagining more just futures. When people come together to resist climate
change, when they come together to unionize gig workers, when they come together to organize against
evictions, they are part of a process of envisioning a better world.
The Radical Imagination Essay
The Future of Work – SOSC 1510 A & B
To learn how to do scholarly research and referencing
To develop critical reading skills
To practice constructing strong arguments
To explore how people envision justice, social change, and strategies to make change
In this essay you will be analysing an organization or movement that fights for what they believe is a
more just and egalitarian future. You will first choose a movement or organization to focus on.
Some of the options listed below relate to struggles against workplace injustices, while others deal
with broader issues of social, political, and economic justice. What is important is you chose one that
interests you. They each feature different visions of a just future and how we might fight to build a
more just future.
Choose a Topic:
Choose a social or workers’ justice movement or organization from the following list:
Wages for Students The Industrial Workers of the World
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee The League of Revolutionary Black Workers
Global Women’s Strike Movement of Worker Recuperated Enterprises
Alternatively, you can choose an organization or movement featured in one of the following films:
A Time to Rise Vanguard of the Revolution
How to Survive a Plague The Ninth Floor
Bread and Roses Kanehsatake 270 Years of Resistance
This is What Democracy Looks Like Maquilapolis
Status Quo? The Unfinished Business of Feminism in Canada A Place Called Chiapas
Disobedience Harlan County USA
Please note that these are mainly historical movements because there is a lot more written on them. If there
is an organization or movement you are interested in that is not listed here, you can email me
with the name of the movement or organization, how it fits with the course
themes and assignment objectives and why you would like to write about it. You may only write on this topic
if it is approved by your Prof. and TA.
Start your Research:
Visit the York University library website or google scholar. Find at least five academic sources on the
movement or organization you chose. Please note that if you chose a film, the film counts as one of your five
The Radical Imagination Essay
The Future of Work – SOSC 1510 A & B
Read and take notes of the articles and book chapters you found with the following questions in
What organization did you choose? Why did they come together?
What is their vision for a more just future and how does it relate to course themes and
What do they identify as the root causes of the injustices they confront?
How do they organize for change?
Do you think their strategies and tactics for making change match their goals?
Why or why not?
What obstacles do you think they would face in realizing their vision of the future?
Putting the Essay Together:
Develop a simple structure for the essay based on answering the above questions. Think of this as a short
report on how and why your movement or organization fights for a more just future. If you find it useful to
organize the paper using the questions as subtitles for each section, go ahead and do so, just remember to
include an introduction, thesis, and conclusion. *Draft a one page outline of your paper before you begin
writing (point form is fine) and please include the outline with your paper.
Review your Work:
1. First, did you do the basics?
Check to make sure you have:
an appropriate topic and thesis
drawn from at least five scholarly sources
used an accepted citation style
provided in text citations where necessary
included your one page essay outline
2. Did your analysis address the theme of radical imagination and other course themes?
3. Did your analysis go beyond summary?
4. Were you able to support your arguments?
5. Were you able to develop a strong analysis about the way the movement envisions change?
Evaluation Criteria: How does my essay hold up to the evaluation criteria?
You will be evaluated on the following:
Your ability to do appropriate research
Your comprehension of the research you did
The depth of your analysis i.e. do you develop an analysis or simply provide description?
Your ability to answer the questions posed accurately and with appropriate evidence
The structure of the paper, the clarity of your writing and use of proper citations