Events - Workshops.

Political Imagination

Developing creative thinking for future outlooks
Tuesday، February 16، 2016
Political Imagination

On February 16, 2016, Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS) hosted Dr. Ammar Ali Hassan, author and expert in political sociology, in a workshop, entitled “Political Imagination: Sources, Motives, Obstacles, and Usage”.

Dr. Hassan began the workshop by pointing out that “Political Imagination” is currently a developing subject, taking into consideration the limited, Arab and foreign, sound theoretical literature in this particular field; with the exception of only one book about social science fiction, which is relatively close to political imagination.

Political Imagination differs from the political future and political forecasting frameworks utilized by intelligence agencies to disseminate and consolidate ideas within society. In addition, there are the political myths, as studied within Anthropology; and political illusion which involves thinking beyond what is possible or available. However, political imagination goes beyond such perceptions.

Scientific Research Functions

Within the context of speaking about a new research field, Dr. Hassan mentioned four basic observations about scientific research functions, abilities of the human brain, and the importance of political imagination as follows.

  • There are seven research functions for scientific research: gathering the scattered, summarizing the detailed, extending the summarized, completing the incomplete, clarifying the vague, criticizing the mainstream, and creating new ideas.
  • Human brain abilities are remembering, understanding, relating, recognition, and innovation. Imagination is required to criticize the mainstream, create new ideas, and innovate. Moreover, intuition plays an equally important role as proven in humanities. Accordingly, researchers who possess insight and intuition instead of depending solely on actuality, have the ability to produce a deeper and more significant analysis
  • Currently, political imagination belongs to the humanities research field. As a result, political imagination, like most subjects in the humanities, cannot be described in decisive or accurate terms, and instead is only approached to garner further understanding.
  • Recent developments in the Middle East Region proved that political imagination is critical. If the leaders in the region had political imagination, they would have understood that following the early 1990’s changes in Eastern Europe, the wind of change would blow towards the Arab world; and they would have voluntarily begun reform processes.

Sources of Political Imagination

Dr. Ammar described eleven sources for political imagination; these are as follows:

  1. Exploration of History: Just as imagination looks towards the future, memory explores the past.  Imagination cannot exist without memory. Exploring the history and understanding its wisdom, facts, and conclusions are critical to the imagination, especially when most issues encountered in the future either have historical roots or similar instances have occurred previously.  If one has a historical understanding of these phenomena, anticipating future outcomes are made more feasible.
  2. Recognizing the Future: There are individuals enthralled with the future, while others continue to live in the past., Interestingly, the same applies to various institutions. Thus, recognizing the future requires human detection of change and applying innovative methodologies in various fields to activate the political imagination within said individuals and institutions.
  3. Cross-Sectional Qualitative Studies: Focus on these studies depends on an understanding that any human phenomenon has various interrelated facets which are not limited to a certain discipline. Hence, cross-sectional qualitative studies go beyond rigid scientific methods, a factor that is important to political imagination. Many researchers do not go beyond their scope or field of expertise, which leads to an incomplete analysis of a particular event regardless of their skill sets.
  4. Team Spirit: Teamwork is necessary to imagine the prospects of a particular phenomenon. Bertrand Russell spoke about what he called “common sense” where people can have a common understanding or thought surrounding an occurrence. Traditional tools used in this type of thought process include “brainstorming”, that allows individuals to exchange, verbally, ideas surrounding an issue without limitations. “Brain-writing” is similar to brainstorming but in a written form, while formulating a “mind journey” means thinking freely about a phenomenon, then documenting the attained creative perceptions.
  5. Lateral Thinking: Involves thinking outside of the box, and formulating creative methods to solve an issue at hand.
  6. Game Theory: When applied, game theory provides a good training in political imagination in the decision-making process.
  7. Utilizing Creative Imagination: There are many novels that have foretold events that have occurred, to the point where some consider the political imagination as a form of political fiction. An example of this includes The Candle and the Dark Corridors authored the Algerian Writer El Tahir Wattar, which predicted some events that occurred in Algeria.
  8. Simulation: Is an important political imagination tool that relies on personifying the roles of individuals, leaders, or presidents, and even some international organizations. Simulation could be applied in remarkable ways within the field of political psychology.
  9. Opinion polls: Provide insights of public opinion trends towards different issues. Through opinion polls, a large number of individuals could be involved in thinking about the future of a certain phenomenon.
  10. Visionary Leader: This is the type of leader who is prudent and has good foresight, for example, a part of Winston Churchill’s success is that he was an avid reader of history, but he also possessed a political shrewdness.
  11. Demonstrating Success Stories: Involves demonstrating successful stories to take better advantage of the outcomes.

Means for Developing Political Imagination

Political Imagination is a skill that could be developed through various steps. First, avoid intolerance to personal opinions. Second, focus on the exploration of history. Third: use scientific theories accurately. Fourth: build researchers’ capacities in data collection, analysis, and classification. This process encompasses further steps, as follows:

  • Reorganizing issues which might seem irrelevant.
  • Avoiding the trap of solid definitions which lead to an uncertain understanding. Furthermore, analysis based on inaccurate definitions which do not comply with the current context of terminology usage will spoil scientific research.
  • Understanding the relation between concepts and their contexts. When one refers to previous definitions of a certain term, one should recognize that the definition links to a specific social and political context which is different from the current one.
  • Thinking about opposing items and definitions (what is the opposing opinion) to crystallize deeper and more profound insights.
  • Avoid giving in to rigid methodologies.

Political Imagination Obstacles

Dr. Hassan highlighted eight possible obstacles that a political imagination could encounter:

  1. Realism: Although the reality is required to examine facts, realism, on the other hand, hinders the political imagination as it involves surrendering to a set reality without believing that a change could occur.
  2. Habitual Decision Makers: Underdeveloped intellectual capacities will not allow for innovative progress and thus will adversely affect political imagination.
  3. Bureaucratic control: Bureaucratic powers are crippling and often inhibit profound and innovative ideas.
  4. Lack of, underestimating, or giving in to information: Political imagination should be based on strong scientific foundation, which involves acquiring sufficient and accurate information to understand the phenomena better. Furthermore, giving into information and delving into details without organizing information according to relevance could be detrimental to the overall political imagination process.
  5. Ignorance of History: Acquiring historical knowledge is important to forecast future incidents. One could learn from past events; as often they hold similar lessons or outcomes that could be related to current events.
  6. Giving in to legacies, traditions, and qualitative rules: Getting accustomed to a certain pattern of education, traditions, and scientific production could restrain the development of the political imagination.
  7. Wishful thinking: Allowing emotions to cloud thought process could be dangerous, especially when confronted with a serious situation. If decisions are based merely on hopes rather than an exploration of realities, then the outcomes are at risk.
  8. Ideologies: Although they provide a framework for thinking, ideologies can restrain individuals who believe in them. Historical certainty extracted from ideologies also challenges the political imagination.

Utilizing Political Imagination

There are a number of areas where political imagination could be utilized, these include:

  • Overcoming Crises: with the lack of information and timing, political imagination helps overcome crises.
  • Developing plans and strategies: This area is in itself involves future discourse.
  • Combating Terrorism: Questions continue to arise to establish how terrorists think. If researchers have information about terrorists and their backgrounds, they can thus create future scenarios for combating terrorists.
  • Anti-corruption: Drafting laws utilizes political imagination in finding potential loopholes. Accordingly, certain mechanisms should be implemented to deem corruption as a very dangerous process.
  • Avoiding negative demographic changes: By applying political imagination, negative changes in demographics could be avoided.
  • Imagined Communities: Nations usually create a heritage for the purpose of national coherence. For example, the Scots tried to separate themselves from English identity to create an independent one. They did so through special music, art, and heritage.
  • Creative industries: For example, children’s games could be mingled with certain values and messages which would help attain some social targets, such as social coherence.
  • Role of the State industry: The state can play non-traditional roles, for example, turning Bollywood into an industry which produces income for the state.

In conclusion, the Dr. Hassan reinstated that the political imagination does not know the words “inevitably”, “absolutely”, or “never”. Political imagination is a relative issue and is present in several aspects of life. It is an intellectual approach utilized in the planning, assessment of attitudes, as well as, party platforms and contenders for legislative and executive positions within states, security perceptions, civil society visions, among others. Dr. Hassan concluded the workshop by quoting Albert Einstein, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Keywords: FARASPolitical SociologyWorkshop