Imaginary Social Worlds: A Cultural Approach

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University of Nebraska Press, 1984 - Social Science - 280 pages
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The violent fantasies of such figures as Mark David Chapman, killer of John Lennon, and John Hinckley, would-be assassin of President Reagan, have commonly been interpreted, by professionals and public alike, as socially aberrant—as the result of psychological instability. John L. Caughey's provocative study shows not only that such fantasies are shaped by enculturation, but also that they are closely linked in content and form to the more benign imaginative constructs of "normal" Americans.

A new departure in the study of American society, this book takes a cultural approach to imaginary social experience, viewing the imaginary social interactions in dreams, fantasies, memories, anticipations, media involvement, and hallucinations as social processes because they involve people in pseudo-interactions with images of other people. Drawing on his anthropological research in the United States, Pakistan, and Micronesia, Caughey explores from a phenomenological perspective the social patterning that prevails in each of these imaginary worlds. He analyzes the kinds of identities and roles the individual assumes and examines the kinds of interactions that are played out with imagined persons.

Caughey demonstrates that imaginary social relationships dominate much of our subjective social experience. He also shows that these imaginary relationships have many important connections to actual social conduct. Moreover, cultural values dictate the texture of the mental processes: imaginary conversations both reflect and reinforce the basic beliefs of the society, imagined anticipations of the reactions of real other people can serve social control functions, and media figures affect actual social relations by serving as mentors and role models.

Caughey's arresting reappraisal of the world of fantasy is, in the words of James P. Spradley, "an outstanding job of scholarship" and "a unique contribution to the field of anthropology in general, to the study of culture and cognition, and to the study of American culture specifically."

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About the author (1984)

John L. Caughey is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland. His articles have appeared in a variety of scholarly journals.

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