Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom Book Club - Chapter 1, Part 3 (p. 63-73)

In this section, Smith proposes that we replace the idea of 'worldview' (which, in current usage is restricted to the realm of the mind, leading to educational practices focused on ideas, beliefs and perspectives) with the more holistic idea of the "social imaginary.   This is a broader term that encompasses not only the importance of content, but also the importance of practices in Christian education.   What exactly does Smith mean by a 'social imaginary'?  "An imaginary is not how we think about the world, but how we imagine the world before we ever think about it, hence the social imaginary is made up of the stuff that funds the imagination – stories, myths, pictures, narratives – these are social because they are 'communal and traditioned'."   Smith gives an analogy of being able to look at a map and figure out the directions to a given location vs. just knowing how to get somewhere without really thinking about it because we've traveled the route so many times.   One's 'social imaginary' is that gut level knowledge – that which we know without thinking about how we know it (or perhaps that which we know poetically?)  Smith proposes that Christian educators need to develop a distinctively Christian social imaginary which should then drive our educational practices. 
As I was considering the distinction that  Smith was drawing between a worldview and a social imaginary, I got to thinking that perhaps this is why cross-cultural adjustments and relationships are so difficult to navigate.  (For those who don't already know, I have lived most of my adult life in cross-cultural ministry situations, first for 10 years in Papua New Guinea, then for a year in France to attend language school, and now in Cameroon, Central Africa.)  If worldview-level thinking (addressing primarily the realm of the mind as Smith is defining it here) really is sufficient, then it should follow that it would be a simple matter of saying to oneself that "Cameroonian people do ____ because of ____" and that would be the end of the matter.  But, it is rarely ever the case for it to be that simple.   I can understand on a head level WHY Cameroonians feel the need to haggle over prices in the market and even get really good at playing the bargaining-game myself, but it still really irritates me on a gut level that that is the way things are done here.  It grates against that part of me that, from my own cultural upbringing in middle-class America, values efficiency – I'd rather just get the transaction taken care of and move on already.   To really become fully integrated in this culture would require changing not just the way I think about making purchases, but also changing that gut-level value that values efficiency over relationship and interaction.    That is something that would only happen after many, many years if it ever happened at all.   When I think about it in cross-cultural terms like this, I can see so very clearly that my orientation to the world – the way I see things, do things, react to things – is very much driven by those almost unconscious gut-level values and not by what I know in my head.    I think this is the point that Smith is getting at, and why it is so important to consider not only how our educational practices are shaping minds and thoughts, but also how they are directing what the heart values.
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  1. That is a good example of how our cultural habits shape our cognitive responses to things. I suppose one reason for education and for living away from one's own home town or country for a while is because it gives us a chance to examine some of our responses and perhaps even modify them.

  2. Very interesting. It's so hard to see what really drives us at a gut level without having something to compare to. You've really got me thinking....

  3. I've lived in the same town my whole life and never traveled far. That is so interesting about how being immersed in another culture really makes you aware of your own "conditioning" and foundational priorities.

    Just the thought of haggling makes me shudder. :)

    1. True confession: whenever possible I send my husband out to run errands because the haggling bit *still* gets to me so much. I can do it when I have to...but let's just say I'm looking forward to the easy-in-easy-out experience of driving to Target when we are next Stateside. ;)