This article analyses publications that pronounce on the health and direction of the social sciences in the United Kingdom, focusing on those commissioned or published by an authoritative source like the Economic and Social Research Council. It speculates on the ways in which fields of study are imagined and shaped through the mix of emotions – fears, desires and ambitions – that can underlie the collective writing of such documents. Using lessons from post-colonial criticism, governmentalised ways of ‘knowing’, ‘representing’ and ‘imagining’ are critically examined and a case is put forward for other ways of envisioning the field. An argument is made for a more cosmopolitan, eclectic outlook to define and describe the social sciences, and the field of education in particular, and the need for a greater awareness of and scepticism towards a ‘governmentalism’ that may limit the diversity of the social sciences and the vibrancy of the social science imagination itself. Such thinking has implications that stretch beyond the United Kingdom, to other states that are also preoccupied with governing and shaping the social sciences.