Starting from a definition of engagement as a social practice that has at its base reflection on values, norms and rules of one’s own social reality, the lecture series for the academic year 2019/20 is dedicated to the horizons, projections and representations of (un)desired reality towards which engagement is directed. Do horizons signify boundaries of a realized ideal or something that necessarily lies beyond any materialization? Do representations of reality to which we aspire provide an ethical dimension to political projects, projections and anticipations? In other words, does social engagement also have to be ethical, lest politics be reduced to mere calculus? If horizons are something yet to be achieved, does engagement then not assume some form of imagination, utopia, perhaps even fiction?
We therefore turn to utopian thinking as a relevant (f)actor in contemporary social theory and action (Geuss, Williams). We consider imagined projections and horizons of social development as constitutive elements of critical thinking of a given social regimes and reflection regarding their potential alternatives. We are interested in the direction of social change. We seek to understand the challenges of society in the course of imagining (un)desired projections of social reality. Thinking horizons of engagement can play a significant role in delegitimizing ossified, well-nigh assumed social structures, fraught with domination, as well as encouraging more or less radical experimentation with existing institutions.
These key notions of social theory are also closely tied to the idea of democracy as a political field in which engagement is desirable, and sometimes even possible. Having this in mind, we ask whether the horizons in question can be anything other than democratic? Moreover, it is a call to rethink the significance of democracy in the contemporary world, in particular today when antidemocrats – in discourse as well as in practice – are amassing. Could it be that it has been (partially or entirely) achieved, and only needs maintenance with ‘specific’ measures; are we speaking of a social order that can be implemented or is it on the other hand an idea that remains ever beyond governance regimes; how is democracy reached – is it perhaps always only a horizon of our political and ethical yearnings, yet still that which enables us to reflect on values in the first place?
Perhaps the question is the relation between engagement and political action: is it possible to create a desired (and which desired?) social reality through democratic means of action? Crucially, is a non-violent revolution as a leap toward desired reality possible? What is the connection between various forms of social and governmental order and projections – does democracy necessarily and always have a role to play?
The (im)possibility of accomplishing the desired change despite this wave of social movements, and given that political systems have responded to their crisis with growing authoritarianism and nationalism, drawing on ideas from the 19th and 20th centuries – all leaves us wondering about the possibility of a different vocabulary and whether old visions can function in new social circumstances. Are the horizons of engagement necessarily to be found in the past, in already well-worn paths? If this is not the case, what are the attributes of the new register and in what narratives do they manifest? Finally, what new paths are possible today?