Imagination taking power

Why I’m writing a book about imagination

Today I want to tell you about a change to my role, and to what I will be doing for the next 12 months.  As we celebrate 10 years of Transition Network, I am fortunate to have been offered the opportunity to take a part-time sabbatical (3 days per week) in order to research and write a new book.  I’m not vanishing altogether from the world of Transition, I will still be working a day a week for Transition Network, and will be writing for the website, although less than I do at present.

The reason is that I am planning to write a book about imagination.  It struck me recently that much of what we do in Transition is about imagination, how to stimulate it, how to create places where people can come together to reimagine in order to then set about rebuilding.

But it increasingly feels to me that our collective imagination, our ability to ask “what if?” and to imagine something other than what we currently have, is a much under-used muscle at a time when we really need it at full strength.  As David Fleming put it:

“If the mature market economy is to have a sequel … , it will be the work, substantially, of imagination”.

And yet I look around, and I don’t see much imagining happening, indeed it looks to me to be being driven out of schools, universities, workplaces, families.  While there is much written about creativity, there is much less written about imagination.  I am particularly moved by this, from Ursula Le Guin:

“In the market place, the word creativity has come to mean the generation of ideas applicable to practical strategies to make larger profits.  This reduction has gone on so long that the word ‘creative’ can hardly be degraded further.  I don’t use it any more, yielding it to capitalists  and academics to abuse as they like.  But they can’t have imagination.  Imagination is not a means of making money.  It has no place in the vocabulary of profit making”.

So I want to take some time to dive deep, to take a road trip through the places in our culture (Transition being one of them) where imagination is still valued, cherished and celebrated.  I want to meet some of the people to whom we entrust our imaginations, the authors, artists and filmmakers who imagine professionally, as it were. I want to find the people who are creating the spaces in which people come together to imagine as communities, in groups.  And I want to reflect on what it might look like if we decided that we need a national crash programme of imagination rebuilding.  What would happen?  Who would do what?  How might it unfold? Because if there were ever a time in our history when we needed our imaginations fully-charged, it is now, as we face a perfect storm of challenges.

It’s a journey I’d like you to accompany me on, to tell me what you think, to share interesting things I’ve come across, to point me to things I might not have spotted before, to give me feedback as the whole thing evolves.  That’s why I’ve created this website, and thanks for following me here.  Have a look around at the first few things I’ve posted.  This will evolve and be added to pretty thick and fast.  You can sign up, should you wish to, for notifications when anything is posted.

I will be taking on less speaking engagements on behalf of Transition Network, but can still be booked in my own personal capacity as a speaker.  Get in touch if you want to discuss anything like that.  As I say, this is a year-long change.  I hope that my journey into the imagination, my imagination road trip, is something that you might accompany me on.  I think it’s going to be fascinating.


  1. S. Towndrow
    March 17, 2017

    Can’t wait to see where this takes you/us Rob. Please know that we are with you, as you continue to follow your intuition on this amazing life journey. We have already experienced so much good unfolding in our lives, personally and in our community from your contributions so far. Thank you, thank you.

  2. Rob Hopkins
    March 20, 2017

    Thank you so much. What a lovely first comment on this new website! Much appreciated. I hope you enjoy it as it unfolds…

  3. Corinne Coughanowr
    March 20, 2017

    Thanks for your great idea to explore imagination and this wonderful blog! I’m already talking about it to friends, and it is certainly stimulating MY imagination.
    Here is a thought that came to me – what if kindness were valued over (productivist) ambition ? What kind of a world would that be ?
    (here I have to give a nod to Jean-Luc Wingert and the game “What If?” that he developed:
    Thanks again!

  4. Chris
    March 21, 2017

    Hi Rob, thanks for writing your first book, I can feedback from brazil, where I am. Here transition network has started to act in the southern state of RGS, mostly the productive system in latin america is based on extensive monoculture for exports, in Brazil we export large amounts of meat to Rusia and China, thus threatening amazon by opening new pastures. Here in minas region the atlantic forest has been subbed by coffee plantations in the beginning of the century, than pastures came along. The most similar to a transition strategy would be to create a municipal marcket system that enables local food distribution, here it is worth to mention the biggest distribution networks, such as carrefour, that indeed break the local distribution. To be effective, local policies must cut taxes for local producers and create seals for local production. Indeed, Brazilian productive system is fragmented, and mostly the large farms bellong to privates, to whom pastures is more profitable here in minas state. We do indeed hold local production in small properties that are called granjas, and there are further institutes working on permaculture in the forests, or forest culture. these movements are very punctual and do not scratch the scale of a transition town, or as to say, the village’s cropps. Indeed, the villages mostly do not hold their own cropps, most of our rice, beans come from the central monocultures, sometimes using trangenic technologies, those are worth for exports to europe as to feed their animals, to china and russia as well. The fruits come from the south, and it is worth mentioning that temperatures define the plantation type. Local food production is not only possible but also feasible in latin america, but the global policies induce us to plant and hold pastures mostly to exporting. The country peoples in minas are very connected to their land, and there is a vast culture on planting and growing animals here. Thus after the coffee plantation period, that was for exporting in the 1900’s, most country men moved to the city, and the land has been resting since them, or with pastures, the atlantic forest flashes back in strips of territory. Insects eat the plants, and if you go permaculturing, mostly you must follow the ants and poison their holes, otherwise they eat everything you plant, that I learned from an old man, who had 14 kids, was analfabet, but his plants grew really a lot. The first thing he used to do was to choose the right spot, as to say, next to a forest strip, where the land is fertile. Is the sabatic new book going to be translated into spanish, or portuguese? cheers!!

    • Liz Hughes
      March 22, 2017

      So looking forward to publication. Keep us all posted on that.

  5. Rob Hopkins
    March 22, 2017

    Thanks Liz. I will do indeed!

  6. James
    March 25, 2017

    I like where you’re going with this Rob. As a person who avidly reads whatever I can about this era of transition that we are in, I’ve begun to realize that the articles I read now about the global catastrophes of climate change and resource depletion are no longer interesting. Not because they aren’t important but because the discussions of ‘What we need to do’ and ‘What the problem is’ are, for me, already well established. We know what the problem is. There are many things we can do about it. The problem seems to boil down to: ‘Why don’t we, as a society, act?’

    Our current society is just so sure of itself despite the daunting facts. I will have a conversation with reasonable people and although they don’t contest much of the reality, they will still shrug it off with a ‘somebody will think of something’ sort of response.

    Is this a result of a societal lack of imagination? I’m interested to see what you uncover.

  7. Aurelie
    March 25, 2017

    Dear Rob, I just met you (from far) in Meyrin (Geneva). I really enjoyed your humour and little ‘déhanché’ – hip moves 🙂 And what did nourish me greatly was exactly where you’re heading next – your testimony brought forth imagination and creativity (in its original not for profit meaning) as the container, sub-texture and thread of Transition. And the rest of your speech was about love, social bond, grounding and simplicity… I thank you deeply for all this.

    And I want to share with you something writer and activist Arundathi Roy said once in a speech (in 2004 maybe): Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

    I am looking forward to be part of this exploration/conversation you’re starting around Imagination.

    Warm greetings!

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© Rob Hopkins 2017