I am working my way through Charles Taylor's Modern Social Imaginaries. I am thinking of using this book in my Macrosociological Theory class. Early in the book, Taylor illuminates one of the great problems in teaching social theory: it is an intellectual's way of looking at the world. Most people do not live their lives thinking about the theory underlying even their own actions, much less the order of society as a whole.
Thus, Taylor proposes the idea of a "social imaginary." Ordinary people do not think in terms of theory, but they do think. They do things for reasons that make sense of their world. Moreover, what they try to do is limited by what they imagine will be an effective way to act. A social imaginary is a shared notion of how the world works and what actions make sense in it. Doing those actions, if they tend to work, makes the whole imaginary seem more true, more legitimate.
In teaching social theory I am initiating students into the small circle of social theorists, at least for a time. Yet they - we - are already participants in the social imaginary that we theorize about and with.
Taylor says that one thing that is distinctive and important about modern social imaginaries is that they do incorporate some elements of explicit social theory. The great modern revolutions, especially the American and the French, enacted theoretical ideas that had been debated and thought through by intellectuals in discourse with other educated participants in making social life. Thereafter, the social imaginary included some theories about individuals, equality, and liberty.
When we are studying social theories, one of the important ideas we will need to keep in mind is Taylor's theory of the not-quite-theoretical social imaginary.