chapter  5
Social meaning
Pages 13

How can we better understand the powerful subjective dynamics that occur in different social formations? Why is that when discussing issues of sustainability certain things are on the table and others are not? As a way of approaching this question, this chapter provides further entry into understanding the circles of social life by working across four interrelated levels: ideas, ideologies, imaginaries and ontologies (see Tables 4.1 and 4.2 ). Each of these four layers of lived meaning is constituted in practice at an ever-greater generality, durability and depth. For example ideas can be passing thoughts, and ideologies tend to move in and out of social contestation. Imaginaries move at a deeper level and, in different ways, enter the commonsense of an age. What is contested about them tends to be their ideological expressions. Most deeply, ontologies, such as how we live temporally or spatially, constitute the relatively enduring ground on which we walk. Whether we recognize it or not, cities are formed in terms of ontologies of time, space and embodiment, from the lines on our roads to the website presentations of urban centres. Material processes of globalization have been changing all of these three layers – at times, even at revolutionary speed. Rapid processes of urbanization have intensifi ed this change. However, the deeper the processes of change, the slower the tendency for a new pattern to take hold as dominant and encompassing.