“Using at least one example from social life, explain what C. Wright Mills (1916-62) meant by the ‘sociological imagination”. According to C. Wright Mills, “the sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and relations between the two within society”. Here, Mills is referring to his belief that researchers can view human life as they are shaped by historically conditioned forces – It empowers us to make the connection between personal troubles of a person (these are such issues of personal and private matters) and public issues of the social structure (or ‘social problems’).
Mills decides that people find troubles “within the character of the individual and within the range of his immediate relations with others”, this of course takes place within the individual’s social environment. Public issues, however, exist on an impersonal level in the form of institutions and the processes of society. These social problems can only be addressed through collective action, rather than an individual pursuing change, however, troubles are only by and large resolved through political responses.
For the individual, the pain and challenge of these troubles is experienced alone, however their origin has developed outside of their personal lives. An applied sociological imagination would be that if, for example a small number of women in a town developed eating disorders, or a small number of people had been fired from their jobs, the women have personal problems that would need resolving privately and those who had lost their jobs had perhaps not performed to the standards required.
Mill’s would have said that if it turns out that one in five women have eating disorders and great numbers of people are being made redundant in the workforce, then it is not logical to assume the problems are personal to the individual but rather the result of systemic forces. Mills’ theory of the ‘sociological imagination’ supports the ideology that a person’s personal choices are influenced by variables within society and the individual is sub-consciously conforming to trends.
As Mills was an American sociologist he focused on the American culture and pointed out that there is much emphasis placed on the individual, their ethos is such that the individuals are inclined to recount most of their problems personally, even when they are persistent in the culture (with many others in a similar situation) and can be traced back to institutional, political or cultural sources.
As well as enabling researchers to identify more clearly the structures that determine and limit individual lives, it helps up avoid “blaming the victim” (Ryan 1972) this involves those people who cannot control the social forces in their lives that cause them suffering, making them oppressed and disadvantaged. For example, people generally believe that unemployment is the fault of the individual’s lack of motivation, when in reality it is a macro social occurrence, governed by forces beyond the control of the unemployed individuals, mainly the structure of the economy and state policy.
Through following Mill’s theory of the sociological imagination people can become conscious of the faults in the belief that, for example, lower classes are to be blamed for poverty or that minority groups are to be blamed for racial discrimination. Though unfortunately, members of society are still not always able to see the connections between their own private problems and that of the social issues in society, which can lead to the false beliefs that are still held by some people, as described earlier.
Hopefully, people in the future will become more aware of these connections and come to understand how class, gender, race and locality can limit or privilege their lives and the lives of others. Word count – 586.
Bibliography – C. Wright Mills (1959). ‘The sociological Imagination’-Chapter One: The promise. 15th October. http://www. lclark. edu/-goldman/socimagination. html Fulcher, J. and Scott, J. (2003) Sociology. Oxford: University Press. (Chapter 1) Haralambos and Holborn. (1995) Sociology – Themes and Perspectives.
Harper Collins Publishers. Macionis, J. and Plummer, K (2002) Sociology: A Global Introduction, 2nd Edition. Harlow: Pearson Education, Ltd. (Chapter 1). R. Luft. (2000) On personal and collective transformation: The Sociological Imagination as a tool of spiritual growth. 15th October. http://www. renaissancealliance. org/isspers/society/socio. htm What is the ‘sociological imagination’? 15th October. http://www. uwgb. edu/austina/courses/rm/imagination. htm You smell of boiled sprouts…