Autonomous imagination is hard in a world where ranks of professionals do it for us. But recouping the ability to construct possible scenarios is fundamental to take part in the creation of a collective tomorrow

* Matteo Meschiari is an anthropologist, geographer and writer. His latest book is: The Great Extinction: Imagining at the Time of Collapse (ed.Armillaria, 2019)

Imagining is often used as a synonym for fantasy. A playful activity, an end in itself. Actually, when we imagine we are using a sector of cognitive abilities that are fundamental and very useful for survival. Like constructing possible mental scenarios in which to test solutions while “remaining safe”; or multiplying the opportunities to blunder into totally unexpected and often brilliant creative situations.

This faculty of imagining is typically human, and has allowed us to get this far. And it just might save us in the future. But first we have to relearn it.

Autonomous imagination is increasingly hard in a world where ranks of professionals do our imagining for us. Politicians, communicators, ad-men, artists: many people creative collective imaginaries – from migrants to the banana taped onto the wall – that are presented obsessively and in which we feel like we are taking part (commenting, liking and sharing), though our creative contribution is equal to zero.

But to take back some control of change, it is fundamental to reclaim imagination, not delegating it to an elite concerned first of all with saving its own neck. The process is tiring: imagining the future demands study and speculative experience. I’m not talk about futurology, but about a science of scenarios based on a comparative method, for example with respect to history. This means that if we want to imagine the future of the planet after the pandemic we have to study similar psychological and social scenarios of humankind’s past. From there, by analogy and with adjustments, we can make new hypotheses, without falling into the trap of dystopia.

The world is full of dystopias. But they are useless if not accompanied by parallel utopian thinking, i.e. thinking capable of inventing a different economic, political and cultural alternative to the status quo. What we can aim for are possitopias, possible (and preferable) scenarios and imaginaries, developed collectively, inside which to move with creative, economic, political and artistic autonomy, in order to go forward.


The photographs in the article are part of the anthological exhibition Sandy Skoglund. Visioni Ibride’, curated by Germano Celant, in Turin at Camera - Centro Italiano per la Fotografia, from 24 January to 24 March 2019. On the top, The Green House, 1990. Cover photo: The Green House, 1990. Collection Cirillo, Brescia. Courtesy Paci contemporary gallery.